Name: Nestor Suan
Role: Head Chef
1st ALE Season: 2018
Working as an Antarctic chef has many challenges and rewards – and takes a special kind of person. Head chef Nestor Suan shares some insights into what brings him to Antarctica and the unique challenges of Antarctic cuisine.
What brought you to work for ALE?
Prior to ALE, I was working with a catering company, as a seasonal Asian Cuisine Chef. I worked onboard a nuclear powered vessel, catering for passengers and staff for the Geographic North Pole and High Arctic expeditions. The owner of the catering company proposed that I give Antarctica a try as he knows (ALE partners) Pete and Mike McDowell very well. He got me to send in my resume and the rest as they say is history.
What is the main difference between working as a chef in Antarctica and working other places in the world?
Working remotely in Antarctica requires a multitude of skills and a certain type of attitude. An Antarctic Chef needs to be able to whip up the most amazing array of delicious, comfort food using whatever ingredients, equipment, and resources available at any given time, because the next grocery store is 1800 miles (2900 km) away. An Antarctic Chef must also be able to demonstrate a calm and steady attitude at the most challenging of times.
What do you love most about working for ALE?
The one thing I love most about working for ALE, amongst other great things, is meeting up with colleagues who you don’t really see during the off season. You tend to develop a good relationship with one another while working on the ice, being isolated and all, so it’s always nice to be able to work with each other again after a long break.
What is your worst moment to date?
Nothing is quite worst anymore once you have five seasons under your belt. Although if i have to choose, it would probably be (Mechanical Services Manager) Al Homer’s sense of humor.
How do you cater to the variety of food preferences represented by ALE’s international clientele?
The kitchen works very closely with the Hotel Manager and Medics. Together we gather information on the list of food requirements, including allergies, food preferences, and dietary requirements. The kitchen will be informed in advance and chefs will prepare the necessary changes to menus, recipes, and provisions.
Tell us a bit about ‘Celebration meals’
Celebration meals are done when clients have successfully achieved their objectives of their Antarctic Expedition, be it summiting Mt Vinson, reaching the South Pole, to even parachuting off an airplane, the list is endless. The Kitchen and Hotel team will collaborate and prepare a fancy cocktail party complete with a variety of canapes, farmer’s platter, selection of fine cheeses, wine, and champagne.
Where do you store food and how do you stop fresh food from freezing?
For fresh vegetables and fruits, we have a special, solar-powered, temperature-controlled chiller next to the kitchen. There’s a small blower that produces hot air to help stabilize cold temperatures and prevent our freshies from getting frozen. For frozen food, there’s two options. One is an above-ground freezer, where we store frozen meat, seafood, packed meals, bread etc. during our operating season. During the winter season, we store all frozen food in our underground freezer. It’s basically a standard shipping container equipped with racks, buried six feet underground for constant temperature control. For cooked food, prep ingredients, and grab and go items, we have another solar-powered chiller next to the kitchen. It is also equipped with a small heat blower, similar to the freshies storage room.
Can you tell us a funny story from your time working for ALE?
I once told Pato our breakfast and lunch chef that there was a plane full of hungry climbers coming our way to Union Glacier from Mount Vinson in 45 minutes, and the Basler from South Pole was also on its way with 20 guests. Pato was in the middle of cleaning up from breakfast and prepping up for lunch, there was only two of us, and Union Glacier Camp had 90 guests at that time. I have never seen Pato so paled face, nor have I ever heard the most creative continuous swearing in three languages before, in English, Spanish, and Russian. I only told him I was joking 30 minutes before service.
One thing you wish everyone knew about Antarctica?
That Antarctica is not as barren or bare as it seems, but amazingly beautiful.
Three words to describe ALE?
Challenging, Progressive, Motivating.
Your must-have item on the ice?
A good smartphone to store music, and take photos with.
One random fact about yourself you could share with us?
I enjoy travelling. Be it on an airplane, a boat, a train, or a road trip, you name it. The excitement in packing your essentials, tickets, passports, guidebooks, the overall process, and journey of it all puts me in a delightful state of eagerness to reach a destination, and experience something new.
What do you do during the rest of the year, when you are not working for ALE?
I spend good quality time with my wife Adeline and five-year-old Chloe. We head home to Borneo, Malaysia and see the rest of our friends and family. In New Zealand I work as a freelance chef, and other seasonal cooking projects in the high Arctic.