FROZEN IN THE ARCTIC! SVEN SCHNIEDER COOKS ON THE RESEARCH SHIP „POLARSTERN“ UNDER EXTREME CONDITIONS
Sven Schneider is a native of Langen near the area of Bremerhaven. He’s familiar with living near the sea and he has a pretty good handle with life ON the sea: He currently works in the kitchen of the Neumayer-Station III, a German polar research station of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in the Antarctic, as well as working in the Antarctic seas on board the research vessel “Polarstern”.
Now the next mission: Sven Schneider is cooking for the over 100-strong crew of the “Polarstern” for months, far away from the Northern German homeland in never-ending ice. The research vessel will freeze itself in the Arctic as part of the year-long expedition named “Mosaic”.
The excitement: By drifting on or together with an Ice-flow, the scientists on board collect weather data in order to better understand climate change. We were able to connect with Sven Schneider, who serves the crew around the hour, for an interview. He tells us how the ordering and storage of foods and products function, how he contributes in keeping the crew happy, why the service is comparable to a hotel and which tasks he takes on parallel to being the chef.
Where did the drive to cook on a research vessel come from? What were your reasons for joining up?
I got the offer to be the kitchen chef of the “Polarstern” during my time working a winter in Antarctica at Neumayer Station III. People say, “If you have been in the ice once, you will always go back”. And that is exactly what happened with me. During the same year, 2018 I was on the “Polarstern” to resupply the base and it felt like I had never left! Every journey is a challenge and a fantastic expedition to be involved with. Not many people get to see these untouched lands.
It’s not your first time at sea as a chef: What things did you not count on before your first expedition?
You have to take everything into account and be able to improvise quickly. Fortunately, I was prepared in both those areas. You also need to be able to stay calm and composed.
You’ve already had experience on cruise ships: What are the major differences between service on a research vessel and a cruise ship?
A cruise ship is anywhere between 4 and 14 days away from the next harbour and doesn’t need to take care of the supplies as much as we do. Every 3 to 5 months we receive a limited re-supply. In the case of emergencies we have two containers on board should there be a failure in re-supply.
How does the calculation of provisions and the delivery of food products function?
We are brought supplies from external ice-breakers from Norway, and I order the provisions a good 2 months before delivery. You should be good with numbers and of course, have experience in working with such large amounts.
What happens in an emergency if a supply ship or plane can’t get through?
As mentioned above, the emergency containers on board come into play.
What do the crew love to eat the most?
The crew is always thankful for variety in the menu and I am always thankful for for special wishes from the crew and scientists.
Are there specific eating times or is it like a hotel with 24/7 service?
It’s like a hotel, only in the way where we have dishes available in the dining area, in refrigeration units for people working night shifts and where you can eat 24-hours a day.
What is the hardest part of the job?
The hardest thing is knowing it’s a dream job… because everyday is different and the area, the fauna and the environment is paradise.
At the moment it’s also dark during the day. How do you keep the spirits of the 100 man crew and yourself high?
In the darkness, it is very important to keep a regular schedule and especially mealtimes. If your head goes on strike, it is important to keep yourself busy and be in good company. We have it good with homemade cakes and delicious food that trumps. We are also lucky to have a baker that makes bread and cakes fresh everyday. That is a highlight everyday.
Are there also culinary highlights, celebrations?
We grill regularly. These occasions are always important and bring everyone together to socialize and get away from work for a bit.
Which ingredients or foods were the most difficult to organise or also store?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a possibility to get fresh salads, tomatoes, cucumbers or exotic fruit because the travel time to the “Polarstern” takes a good 4 weeks.
How does cooking with fresh ingredients work on a research vessel?
We are dependant on product that stores well, and for longer amounts of time. Red and white cabbage, carrots, pumpkin and potatoes are the most robust and have the best shelf-life. Combined with deep frozen vegetables, it lasts for months.
Are there tasks you need to take on that would not be necessary in a restaurant for example?
Aside from being on call 24/7 for 5 months, I have the normal craziness of being a bit of a psychologist and supervisor 😉
Thank you so much for the interview and we wish you continued happiness on the “Polarstern”!
All information regarding the research vessel “Polarstern”, the expedition, where you can find the ice-breakers, what life is like on board and what data the scientists are collecting can be found here: https://www.awi.de/expedition/schiffe/polarstern.html