Christmas Prep and Food Warehouse Tour

Well, we’re nearing Christmas and thankfully I’m feeling much more Christmassy this year than last. I have presents sorted for everyone on the dinner shift as well as a few other people on station and, on the 19th, I gave myself an extra special treat – I booked Hut 10 for myself.

I didn’t have a party planned or anything, I just wanted to feel like I was in a home for a little while, not on a station. Unfortunately, I had to work that day so while I didn’t get the full benefit of an entire day there, I did plan on spending the night, since when you book Hut 10 you get it from 10am the day you reserve it until 10am the day after. Once I got off work, I packed up a bag and box of supplies and headed down. I blocked out all the light from the windows with blankets and tablecloths, strung up my Christmas lights, opened the box of See’s Candies that my mom had sent with my friend David back in November, and put on National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation while I settled down to wrap presents. It was really really nice and made me feel much better about missing Christmas with my family for the second year in a row.

And while we don’t have Russell forbidding us from playing Christmas music in the galley this year, we have Lisa doing it instead. I suppose I should feel badly for her – she says she doesn’t like to hear Christmas music because it reminds her of her mother who passed away and “now she’s an orphan”. When I asked when her mother had passed, Lisa revealed that it was a couple years ago and her mother had been in her late 80s…or possibly it was her early 90s…I stopped listening at that point because Lisa is in her 50s and I felt like she was now being just a bit melodramatic and a pain in my ass. But that’s not new. In general, my sous chef has proved to be one of the most difficult people to work for. She tends to look out only for herself and is only interested in relationships with people that will bring her more attention. Most of the time during dinner service, none of us can find her because she’s out on the service floor being social with this person or that person. Some of her “friends” treat the galley staff atrociously and she just laughs it off. Professionally there are huge gaps in her knowledge on how to feed this many people efficiently, or how to incorporate different cuisines into the menu, and she gets furious when any of us question her methods or ideas in an attempt to suggest there might be a better way to get something done. She seems to think that questions are a threat to her authority, which indicates a lack of confidence and self-esteem to me, since the best authority figures I’ve known have always treated questions – at least, the smart kind of questions, that are intended to help get a job done better – as a sign of a mind at work. She’s physically incapable of doing any heavy lifting or long periods of chopping or slicing…which means all that work falls to the rest of us. She’s also constantly missing shifts because of some illness or other, but always seems to turn up at the bar that night. There was even one day where she called in sick and, because of holidays and regular days off, Julie and I had to put dinner out alone. For 700 people. Thankfully our exec chef (who is also our sous chef’s best friend and roommate) stepped up and helped right at the end with getting fish portioned and out the door, since Julie can’t touch fish without breaking out in hives.

So given that I’ve been dealing with all that at work, having some quiet time alone in Hut 10 to be festive was exactly what I needed before putting my head down and grinding out Christmas dinner.

One particularly interesting item of note occurred yesterday, however: our Exec Chef arranged a tour of our Food Warehouses for the galley staff – both cooks and stewards.

Because the weather at McMurdo does get above freezing, all of our frozen goods – meat and sauces and cheeses and veggies – need to be stored in a special warehouse that is artificially kept below freezing all year around. So we all had to bundle up because it’s much colder in there than outside, even though we’re in Antarctica. Weird, huh?

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Joseph, our “Food Monkey”, tells us that after Vessel, when a majority of food for the following summer is off-loaded, there is barely enough room to drive a loader down the aisles to get to the top shelves.

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This is the most expensive fried chicken in the world, thanks to transport costs! It was originally sent to Pole but we were running short thanks to mismanagement of our inventory in the last couple years – high turnover at the top levels will do that – so Pole sent it back to McMurdo. *shakes head*

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Once pallets are emptied, they’re broken down – either for easier storage until they’re reused or for shipping back on the vessel for recycling.

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After the cold storage warehouse, we headed to the dry goods warehouses where items can be stored at a more ambient temperature.

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Feel like doing some baking?

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Ooh the chocolate monster has found the source of the M&Ms!

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Well, hello there!

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The hook is used to haul pallets into some semblance of organization.

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While we have plenty of cereal – clearly – it’s all pretty boring stuff which is why I made sure to send myself some single-serving containers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, and Honey Nut Cheerios…cause sometimes you just want something sweet for dessert!

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I found this tour invaluable because for those of us in the kitchen, it answers a lot of questions about why we “can’t just get another box” of XYZ when we’ve run out – all this stuff is inventoried and mapped so it’s not just a matter of grabbing a box off a shelf – it has to be deleted from the inventory and if it’s in a difficult to reach place, special equipment is needed that can take time that Joseph doesn’t have. This is why our Exec Chef places a weekly order on one day, then that order  gets compiled along with the order from the Steward Supervisor by the Food Monkey, who schedules time to pull all the supplies and gather it in one place, using loaders if necessary, and then schedules a separate time to perform the actual delivery with forklifts and such. It’s just one more piece of the enormous logistics puzzle that keeps McMurdo running. I hope they will continue these tours next year for new cooks and stewards.

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