We speak to Mel about what it's like working as a chef in the Arctic.
What is it like provisioning in the Arctic?
Provisioning up here comes with its challenges! Including the crew as well as the guests, I am feeding up to 12 people, sometimes for as long as 12 days without anywhere to restock fresh produce! As the menu is bespoke to guest's preferences, I thoroughly plan in advance, which is essential when provisioning up here.
What’s your favourite meal to cook?
That’s a tough one! I really enjoy cooking with seasonal produce, so reindeer tenderloin, local sausage with a red wine jus and Lyngenberry sauce is a joy to cook. I took inspiration for this dish from a meal I had at Biffhuset. It was the first Norwegian dish I’d ever tried here after over 3000NM at sea. It tasted amazing and I knew I had to try and replicate it with my own spin. Otherwise, I love making sushi with the beautiful sushi grade salmon available.
Do you use regular suppliers?
Yes. When we are docked at our home base in Tromsø I go to Dragøy Fishmongers which is a few hundred metres from the boat - can’t get fresher than that! Another favourite of mine is Helmersen Delikatesser which imports beautiful cheese and luxury condiments from around the world. Tatiana and Henrik who work there are full of knowledge about all of the produce (hi guys!) and now I’m on my second season up here it feels like popping in to see friends. It’s a highlight going in before each trip and seeing what they have. I only buy the Norwegian cheeses from them and make a huge cheeseboard for our guests to enjoy with a glass of port after a candlelit supper. The board on the last trip feature Lille Aske (Little Ash) which is a Norwegian cheese that won Super Gold in the most recent World Cheese Awards. Hand made from raw goat’s milk and covered with a layer of ash – it’s light, creamy and just divine!
What is your favourite thing about cruising the Arctic?
I think the peace and quiet is unrivalled to anywhere else. Coming from busy Mediterranean Summers up here is like taking the boat on a retreat. Sometimes we are located in areas where just 4 people live. Being so remote makes it feel very special. Whilst you’ll usually find me in the galley, sometimes I find myself taking a glimpse at something on deck that is only shared between those on board. Last year when the guests were on the mountain, I went on deck to get a spot of fresh air and there was a sea otter rolling about in the snow on the dock. It was much larger than I expected – about 1.5 metres. I was able to take five minutes in the quiet and watch it play. It’s these snippets of time which make the job incredible.
Now you’ve been to the Arctic – where’s next?
We’ve sailed the boat 70 degrees North twice and it would be amazing to go even further! Ollie and I recently came back from Svalbard having been on a reccy to see what it would be like taking the boat up to the last settlement before the North Pole. Needless to say, it would be another ball game entirely up there, not least requiring a gun for protection from polar bears to collect provisions! It’s meeting the challenge which is rewarding, and for me, that’s what Firebird is all about.