I have eaten slop on a factory processor, in a fish cannery, and in a university cafeteria, and without question I have never had institutional food as good as at McMurdo. There are many who complain, but with three meals a day the food is merely a convenient target for general polar malaise. There is little the cooks could improve that wouldn’t be better remedied just by springing for a higher quality cooking oil.
The food during the winter of 2001 was no exception. We heaved boneless breasts of chicken into our collective maw and lie face down on mounds of pasta. We sucked on chocolate torte and froze our molars on Frosty Boy vanilla soft serve. We learned never to eat the fish, and that several days of consecutive pudding meant the baker was tired. When we couldn’t bear to see another variety of chicken, and the pasta-wheels had lost their lustre, there was always the breadbox to recalibrate the palate for simplicity. In this way, a menu of well-prepared but inevitable tedium was endured.
At Winfly though, things changed. (Winfly begins with planes bringing “Winfly people” in August, and ends with planes removing the winter-overs in October.) The running of the Galley had for some time been subcontracted to Marriott, the institutional cafeteria giant, but it was during Winfly when someone decided that the Cookbook of McMurdo was to be thrown out and the Cookbook of Marriott was to be brought in.
At Winfly a new Marriott manager flew down. He kept his kitchen whites pristine and he made a great show of wiping up gravy spots. Within a week of his arrival, the institutional Marriott menu was being phased in. On Mexican food day there were little wands of ‘enchilada’ filled with processed cheese bright orange and gelatinous. “How come we have never seen these enchiladas before?” we asked each other. “Did someone bring them in their bags at Winfly?” We put the enchiladas on our plates, laughed over them at the lunchtable, then threw them away, having filled up on chips and salsa.
The next day I served myself lunch from the hotline and went to a table. “This is a Grilled Cheese Tijuana,” I announced. Those at the table shrunk back as I pried off the lid of the toasted sandwich to reveal processed cheese smeared with a dollop of salsa.