One very cool cook

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 11:19 03/01/2014
Bobbie McSweeney
Karl Drury/Fairfax NZ
COOL COOK: Scott Base chef Bobbie McSweeney prepares lunch for staff in Antarctica.

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Press reporter DEIDRE MUSSEN visited the Antarctic this summer. Today, she tells us how chef Bobbie McSweeney feeds the workers in such a remote place.

Sniffing 100-year-old sultanas from Robert Falcon Scott's doomed polar expedition is one of many unique experiences that Bobbie McSweeney has had in Antarctica.

The 34-year-old Christchurch chef is nearly three months into her third year working for Antarctica New Zealand at Scott Base, and has loved every minute.

Several years ago, Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators at Scott Base were restoring a small tin box from Scott's Terra Nova hut, built in 1911 at Cape Evans for his South Pole attempt.

"They undid it to find out what was in it because there was no label on it. They called us up and we came down and it was an amazing package of sultanas like you'd get now in a box. The smell was just incredibly fresh and sultana-like."

McSweeney's dreams of visiting Antarctica began as an eight-year-old girl.

Her first year-long stint began in October 2009, followed by another in 2011 and then this year, with a year off between each stretch.

She shares cooking duties with a fellow chef during busy summer months when up to 90 people are at Scott Base. Staff numbers drop to about 15 over winter, so only one chef remains.

Cooking in such a remote and harsh place has unique challenges, aside from being a vegan, so she can't eat most of the food she cooks.

"There are always taste sisters here to help out."

In summer, fresh supplies are flown down once every few weeks but no flights run over winter.

Each February, when sea ice is most scarce, a supply ship delivers a huge container packed with a years' worth of frozen foods, canned goods, flour and sugar for Scott Base.

"You just can't ring up your local supplier and get it delivered the next day. You've actually just got to plan it or use what you've got here and change the menu, and just be quite adaptable to what you've got to use around base."

Sometimes, theme dinners are put on for fun, such as Halloween and fish and chip nights.

Her traditional Christmas menu was organised well in advance to ensure an arrival of berries and other treats but no more fresh fruit and vegetables will arrive until mid-January.

"Christmas is really awesome to do down here. One, it's white - and snowing, hopefully."

Antarctica's dry atmosphere also causes problems.

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Cookie and bread doughs swiftly crumble if you turn your back for long, she says.

Wintertime offers additional difficulties because of the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, plus the extreme cold outside.

Tricks are many, such as coating fresh eggs with oil to make them last up to six months.

"It's a good challenge to make stuff to keep people happy and see what you can freeze down beforehand over the summertime to bring out for treats in winter."

A major bonus is that Scott Base's kitchen offers spectacular views across pressure ridges, sea ice and the Ross Ice Shelf to White and Black islands.

"It's probably the most beautiful view I've had from any kitchen, so we make the most of our big windows and make sure we're chopping looking out those windows."

In wintertime, the sun never rises above the horizon but a full Moon sometimes shines on White Island, creating a magical sparkle of white in the permanently dark landscape.

McSweeney rates her job at Scott Base as one of the best in her life, and isn't ruling out applying for a fourth year.

"It's just an amazing, incredible place . . . It just keeps getting better and better each time I come down."

- The Press

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