Baking at the Bottom of the World

by admin4. January 2009 19:00

A Moraine Park Technical College education can help take you places — literally.


Josie MacLeod stands outdoors in an Antarctic summer, which looks a lot like a Wisconsin winter.

Using the skills she developed while pursuing her associate degree in Culinary Arts, along with encouragement from her Moraine Park instructors to go where her heart desired, Joscelyn “Josie” MacLeod has cooked at Glacier National Park and aboard a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship. Her latest adventure has taken her way down under at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, where she bakes for about 1,000 scientists, researchers and support staff.


MacLeod, 29, grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from Wauwatosa East High School. She received her Culinary Arts degree with high honors from Moraine Park in December 2006.


At first, MacLeod wasn’t sure just what she wanted to do when she enrolled at the College. “I really just wanted to find something that I would enjoy doing and would be happy doing for the rest of my life,” she said. “I thought to myself that I love to cook and bake so I decided to make it my career. I thought I would at least try it out and, if I didn't like it, I knew I could always change my mind again.”


Culinary Arts turned out to be the career for her. As graduation loomed, MacLeod again mulled over what she wanted to do.


“I really had no plan after graduation,” said MacLeod. “I just went where the winds took me.”


MacLeod credits her Moraine Park Culinary Arts instructors — James Simmers, Ron Speich, Tom Endejan and Dave Weber — with helping her get to where she is today. Her yen for travel started when the instructors suggested she join the student exchange program to Germany. “That is when I realized that I can get on a plane and go anywhere,” said MacLeod. “After that I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see how everyone else lives and acts and meet new people from all walks of life. … [My instructors] were there to support and encourage me to go where my heart desired.”


The start of new adventures

She attended a job fair for Norwegian Cruise Lines and was hired on the spot. Not expecting things to happen quite that soon, MacLeod had about two months to put her life in storage and leave for Maryland for Coast Guard training. Then she was off to Hawaii, baking aboard a ship for 1,500 to 2,000 vacationers cruising the islands.


“What a whirlwind experience, because I rarely ever left town before that,” she recalled. “Now I was just packing up and leaving. That was just the beginning. I thought I would only be gone for about six months, and now it is going on two and a half years.” Between jobs, MacLeod stays with family or friends in Wisconsin.


Her newly adventurous life took her from one unique opportunity to another as she met new people who told her about the places they had been, whereupon an intrigued MacLeod would inquire about getting a job in those same places. While on the cruise ship, MacLeod met a girl who had spent time in Antarctica, saying it was one of her favorite seasonal jobs.


So MacLeod applied online, went through phone interviews and had major medical and dental exams to be cleared to “come down to the ice.” She got the job and was told she would leave sometime in October 2008. In the meantime, she checked out a seasonal-jobs Web site to find something to fill the downtime between the May 2008 end of her cruise ship job and the October start of her new job, baking for about 1,000 people, four meals a day, at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.


MacLeod came across a summer job at Glacier National Park in Montana as a production cook for the Park Café, where she made soups, sauces, homemade vegetable burgers and many other organic dishes. Instead of getting a few weeks between jobs, she received an e-mail that she would be leaving for Antarctica only four days after returning to Wisconsin. So there was very little time between unpacking her summer clothes from Montana and packing her cold-weather gear for Antarctica.


The Antarctic “summer”

As one might imagine, Antarctica is cold, like a Wisconsin winter at its most below-zero frigid. When the sun is out 24/7 during the Antarctic summer, which spans August through March, it starts to warm up. In November, MacLeod said, the temperature ranges from -10 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. “It does get pretty windy at times and it feels like -50 degrees F,” she said, “so you dress warm and it’s not that bad.” In December the daytime temperature can be about 10 degrees F, when it’s possible for Antarctica to be the same as or even warmer than Wisconsin, a fact that MacLeod finds funny.


With Antarctica’s perpetual wintry weather and the need to rely on shipped supplies, there isn’t an abundance of fresh food. “We only have salad and fresh fruits and veggies about once every two weeks, sometimes sooner if the greenhouse produces enough,” said MacLeod. “Otherwise, everything is frozen or freeze-dried. Most of the food is anywhere from one to two years old because it is required that we have enough in supply in case we get stuck here.” MacLeod said that while the lack of fresh food doesn’t affect the bakery that much, they do run out of items for the season that aren’t replaced until the following season.


Baking for 1,000: Timing is everything

At McMurdo, MacLeod works alongside a kitchen staff of one chef, 12 production cooks, six prep cooks, one lead baker and four production bakers. She bakes about 200 pounds of bread a day, plus pies, bars, cakes, brownies, cinnamon rolls, breakfast danishes and 4,000 cookies every Wednesday. “Trust me, you don’t want to run out of dessert — there would be a riot,” she joked.


The skills she learned at Moraine Park have come in handy, particularly a specialty breads course. “Timing out my projects is key because we only have a few ovens, so the timing of the breads from the time of mixing to the time of baking is key,” said MacLeod.


“You also have a deadline to have everything ready for mealtimes,” she added. “It is something that I started to learn at Moraine Park. Everything that I was taught really comes in handy every day — everything from timing, to ordering enough food, to producing enough food, to having a quality product. While I was learning these skills, I never thought that I would be able to do them at such a large scale, but I found that it is a lot easier to do when you have a large controlled environment like this one.”


While MacLeod loves seeing the world while she works, these jobs can be hard work. “On the ship I worked 10- to 12-hour shifts seven days a week for five to seven months straight,” explained MacLeod. “Here at McMurdo I work 10-hour shifts six days a week so I feel like I am on vacation. The best part of seasonal jobs is the breaks in between. I usually have off anywhere from five weeks to two months straight. So I guess you have to weigh your options.”


When it’s time to head back up from the bottom of the world, MacLeod isn’t sure where she will end up next. “I am hoping that I will be in Alaska in May 2009,” she said. “We will see. Maybe something better will come along before that,” continuing her practice of going where the winds take her.


One thing that is for sure, MacLeod will continue her education at some point. “I would like to add to the culinary degree and go back for food science. I also love science so hopefully I will be set from there.”