Former chef to the stars keeping Scott Base full and happy

When a snow storm forces staff and scientists at Scott Base to stay inside, one job becomes all the more important.

Wellington-born Justin Chambers, formerly a chef to the stars, is tasked with cooking for everyone at New Zealand's Antarctic station.

Chambers used to work at Pierre Koffmann's La Tante Claire, a top restaurant with two Michelin stars. Now he's spending the summer keeping those at Scott Base happy and well fed.

"My goal was to work in the best French restaurant in London," he told Newshub.

"So I reached my goal and I went, 'Oh, now what?'"

Justin Chambers
Photo credit: Newshub.

Tired of the extensive hours, he quit and became a roadie for some of the music world's elite. After cooking for Madonna, Beyoncé, Kanye West and Queen, he headed south to Antarctica, intrigued by exploration.

After three seasons at Australia's bases on the continent, he's taken up the head chef position cooking for modern explorers at Scott Base.

It's a bright and early start in the summer. With 24-hour sunlight, Chambers kicks into gear by making bread at 5am - all the while, gazing out a window at the scenery surrounding him.

"I definitely think I have the best start to the day, being able to do this," he said.

Loaves are available at all times of the day and form a key part of the Antarctic lifestyle.

Scott Base bread
Photo credit: Newshub.

"It's the go-to for everyone... [Like] toast, when they can't sleep at 3 in the morning."

In the isolated continent, frozen vegetables are another key staple of the diet. It turns out to be one of his biggest challenges because it's difficult to keep them from being soggy.

"They've already got a large water content and they're not the nicest, so we'll make them nicer if we can. That's the big challenge," he said.

When it comes to the cold, the Antarctic environment comes in handy. Anything that needs to be cooled can be briefly popped outside into an enormous, natural fridge.

But with temperatures dropping to as low as -40degC, Chambers still uses a regular fridge to keep things at the right temperature. However it's an odd set up, probably one of the only fridges equipped with a heater, to stop the food from freezing. 

When a snow storm prevents anyone from venturing outside the base, the kitchen becomes a natural gathering point. Helpers volunteer their time freely, standing and chatting over kilograms of bacon and a massive pot of boiling eggs for brunch - or helping ice cookies for afternoon tea.

It can be a tough job, with Chambers working to feed around 90 hungry people at breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner - and always, dessert.

"To please everybody is not an easy task, but it's one that I strive for," he said.

"That's the inspiration really, is to get everyone happy."

So does he have a favourite dish to cook?

"Anything that makes you happy... I cook to make people happy and if I can make people happy, then that makes me happy, and I'll continue to do it."

As far as those at Scott Base are concerned, it's a job well done.