Saying goodbye to Abingdon in favour of the wintry planes of Antarctica, Olivier Hubert left behind the role of Executive Chef of St Helen and St Katharine to adorn a new title: the Antarctic Chef. Via his new blog, Olivier tells us all about his adventures cooking for the British Antarctic Survey, his arrival at Rothera Research Station and what it’s like to live on Adelaide Island.
“You will have to forgive me for having taken so long to actually start writing this blog, but summer is short in the Antarctic and as a result the working season tends to be pretty hectic. Even now, as I sit in my pit room writing this blog, there are aircraft landing and taking off just outside my window.
Departing from Camp Pleasant in the Falklands, there were nine of us plus a pilot, his co-pilot and a plane engineer that took a 5–6 hour flight to Rothera onboard the Dash 7. Fortunately for us, the weather held and, after five hours of travelling, the first icebergs began to drift on the ocean beneath. Craggy peaks appeared on the horizon, wreathed in mist, like some frozen Valhalla where one assumes fierce Viking Gods must dwell drinking hydromel and telling sagas while worrying about Ragnarök.
When we arrived on the 4 December 2021, the huge yellow crane was buried in ice and the building site was no more than a mound of snow marked by fluttering flags. Now, most of the snow is gone, on camp at least, giving way to a coarse, dusty scree that sadly lacks the pristine beauty of the ice.
The Rothera base is situated on Adelaide Island, a small Island to the West of the Antarctic peninsula, it sits on a rocky promontory at the Southern tip of the island. Adelaide is 140km long, covered in mountains and glaciers, the highest peak being 2565m high.
Since Rothera was first established in the 1970s it has grown organically into the current mix of gleaming, state-of-the-art infrastructure and, shall we say, "lived in" barracks, hangars and workshops that have weathered a fair few Antarctic winters and bear the subsequent scars to prove it.
Upon arrival, the first thing one notices are the names; every building has one, often reduced to its acronymic essence – for example, ‘Old Bransfield House’ and ‘New Bransfield House’ becomes ‘OBH’ and ‘NBH’ respectively.
OBH is the old base headquarters and looks like a long, low military barracks with a small wooden terrace at the front and a tower sitting at its helm. The tower is vital as it directs all airplane traffic and spots trespassing seals and skuas who are bold enough to step, and sometimes lie, on the runway. The whole point of Rothera is the airstrip. Planes ferry staff to and fro, carry cargo, resupply fresh food, lug fuel drums, enable medivac and offer a vital steppingstone for other aircrafts from all polar nations working further inland.
Living at Rothera is the equivalent of living on a much smaller version of Heathrow airport and everything revolves around the flying schedule, which, in turn, depends almost entirely on the unpredictable and at times temperamental Antarctic weather.
NBH is located a two-minute walk away from its older namesake and is the social hub of the base. It is another functional looking building on stilts overlooking the sea and the mountains beyond. And, finally, encircling the tower like vindictive hobbits setting siege to Cirith Ungol, sit the three dormitories that house the 140 staff on station. They answer to the names of Admirals, Giants and Vikings, named after the former sledge dog teams that served before the infamous ban on dogs and other non-native wildlife came into being. Personally I think that Spartans, Huns and Mobsters would have been more fun but frankly, with teams bearing names such as Trogs, Goobers and Hairybreeks it could have been a lot worse.”
Follow more of Olivier’s adventures in Rothera on his blog:
The Antarctic Chef