Chef dishes up a documentary about his Antarctica adventure
November 11, 2013 9:13 PM
Keith Reimink, a sous chef, with his insulated camera box at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica.
By Barbara Vancheri / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Necessity really is the mother of invention when you're stranded -- by choice -- at the South Pole. And trying to document your experience with a $300 Canon camera about the size of a Nerf football.
Sous chef Keith Reimink, 34 and now living in Greenfield, managed so successfully that he shot 200-plus hours of HD footage during the year he spent en route or at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. That included the winter when the horizon, sunlight and any chance of ready departure vanished.
He rebuilt an insulated camera box so it had a hole for the lens (and cap), and, behind the camera, he fashioned a little pocket for a lead weight. "I would go to the heavy shop -- the machine shop -- and they had these pieces of lead or iron or whatever they had laying around, and I would take a piece of that and put it in our convection oven in the kitchen at 500 degrees for a half-hour or an hour and this thing would just be piping hot.
"And I'd put it in there with the camera and then I could go outside for hours, in whatever condition it was, and the thing would stay warm. Very like guerrilla filmmaking."
The kitchen is where Mr. Reimink, a sous chef for Parkhurst Dining Services at Chatham University, spent his workdays as a production cook. He was one of three for the winter when the summer population of 300 dwindled to 43, with each chef taking a breakfast, lunch or dinner shift and rotating every six or eight weeks.
He had gone to the end of the Earth before, having spent seven years working for the United States Antarctic program as a chef, starting in 2005 at the McMurdo Station.
"You sign six-month or 12-month contracts based on what their needs are and what you want to do or what you're able to do. A lot of folks will work for six months in Antarctica, usually McMurdo, which is the biggest research facility on the Ross ice shelf there," and then take six months off.
"It becomes this traveling, seasonal lifestyle where you work for a couple of months and you make a bunch of money and then you go spend it, and then you work for another couple of months and make a bunch of money. It's kind of alluring when you're young and you don't have that many attachments back home. It's a very romantic kind of thing."
From October 2008 to November 2009, he signed on for the South Pole and weathered the summer and winter. He, like others, had to undergo a psych evaluation to ensure that he could endure the isolation and inability to leave; it can take a month for a plane to arrive during a medical emergency that cannot be handled on site.
He knew some of the others at Amundsen-Scott from previous deployments. "It's a real community sort of atmosphere, where you work with the same people and you play with the same people and you go to the bar with the same people. So over the years, you see some of the same people returning and coming back, so you develop these ice friendships."
For instance, he previously had worked with the "angry chef" who appears on camera and grouses about how he prepared really good food that no one ate because they are picky and whiny.
Mr. Reimink, originally from Holland, Mich., had no intention of making a full-length documentary when he landed.
"It started out as me bringing the camera to say, hey, I'm tired of taking pictures, everybody takes pictures. If somebody asks a question, 'How was your year at the South Pole, what did you cook?' So, here's a video of it. ... The intent was just to have some stuff that I could watch and have memories that way."
The result is titled "No Horizon Anymore: A Year Long Journey at the South Pole."
About 95 percent of the people who overwintered were willing to appear on camera and talk about everything from wonder ("You're not in a constant state of awe, but it's kind of cool when those states of awe hit you") to the water, which often comes from snow dating A.D. 50 to 500. Lacking the minerals we've come to expect, it tastes kind of empty.
As for what you can cook while marooned at the bottom of the world, the last flight of the season brings "freshies" such as fruits and vegetables including long-lasting carrots, potatoes and onions. "Any sorts of strawberries, absolutely not." Once the freshies, including eggs, were gone, the chefs switched to frozen or dry ingredients and creativity was essential.
"You have pork, chicken, some beef and some seafood and how do you make that interesting for the same 43 people for 12 months? You absolutely have to have a large repertoire in your head because the menus you would get would literally be ... use 25 pounds of pork. So you think, well, I could do a pork roast or pork loin or apples and pork." A limited amount of alcohol is available for purchase.
Residents could burn calories or energy with volleyball and kickball tournaments, by playing basketball or shooting pool, taking advantage of a full gym including weight room, watching movies or reading books. In Mr. Reimink's case, he also used an old editing program on a computer to review the footage he had shot.
As for what he learned about himself through the long winter, he says, "I'm not really afraid to try anything, I guess. It's the most hard-core thing that I've ever done. You're away from medical treatment -- you go through all the tests and there are two wonderful doctors that were stationed down there. ...
"They can stabilize you and they have video conferencing capabilities, if necessary, but if you have some major problem or some major issue and need to get out, you're a month away from a plane coming in."
Mr. Reimink, who not only captured the sights but also the remarkable sounds of the boots against the snow (there's no moisture so no typical crunch), moved to Pittsburgh with his girlfriend in February. They met in Alaska, and her desire to attend grad school brought them here.
Any plans to return to the South Pole? He would love to, but only if his girlfriend could join him. They were together, although not physically, when he was in Antarctica, and he says, "That's a long time to leave people you care about. I don't think I could do that again.
"But if it worked out in our lives, professionally, to go work on the ice together, that would certainly be something I would do."
The movie, which has been on the festival circuit for a year with success, will screen as part of the Three Rivers Film Festival at 4 p.m. today at Waterworks Cinemas and 2 p.m. Saturday at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room. Mr. Reimink is scheduled to attend both screenings. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.
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