7 different Chef jobs that are out of the ordinary
Davis station Chef Justin Chambers slicing up fillet at Davis station in Antarctica.
Photograph © David Hoskins/Australian Antarctic Division
Cooking at the poles requires careful planning, innovation, and patience! Since supplies must be shipped or flown in from halfway around the world, sometimes arriving only once a year, chefs have to plan out the meals well in advance.
At some of the South Pole research stations, industrious chefs have created greenhouses to hydroponically grow fresh salad greens and herbs throughout the winter. Other stations rely solely on fresh produce arriving only in summer.
With temperatures varying between 8.6°F and -117°F, even in such extreme cold, food storage must be temperature controlled because ultraviolet rays and sustained sunlight in summer can damage even frozen food. And if chefs send food out in the field with researchers going to remote locations, it can take up to two weeks to defrost meat or poultry and hours to heat up soup. Chefs accompanying researchers have even been known to sleep with produce in their sleeping bags to prevent them from freezing!
If you’re up for the challenge: Sous Chef position available, South Pole Station (winter)
On ranches across Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Arkansas, Idaho, and other states, PCI represents chefs who are capable of catering to both vacationing guests and hungry ranch hands.
Whether it’s a trout fishing, dude, horse or cattle ranch, the ranch chef is usually responsible for all food & beverage-service, which entails being able to efficiently manage a larger team than at a private estate property.
The chef also needs to be resourceful in procuring good products far from city centers, perhaps growing some of the ingredients themselves, and have the creative chops to make delicious, nutritious, and quality dishes from what’s available. Certainly, it’s easier to get supplies delivered these days than before, but the task of shopping from a very remote area and keeping all the staples on hand can be a big challenge.
Not to mention securing all food supplies from livestock, pets, and the wildlife that may be nearby. A word of advice from experienced ranch chefs:
“Don’t wear a bloody apron outside. The bears and wolves can smell you from a mile away!”
Josh Drage is the Executive Chef on a working ranch at Rock Creek Montana
One way to get started in a cooking career, is to cook in a prison or detention center. It might not sound particularly glamorous, but it makes for good experience catering to large groups and working within a strict budget and on schedule.
The head chef at one of these facilities is responsible for making a menu each day and leading a team to follow his/her recipes. One of the challenges is working with a limited variety of ingredients, which gives experience in creating good food with very little. These skills could equip a chef with enough know-how and creativity to move on to a catering or restaurant environment at some point.
There’s a decent salary to be made working at these facilities. The average jail cook in the US makes $62,768, plus an average 5% bonus. Interestingly, prison chefs make the most in San Francisco at $75,794, a total compensation of 21% greater than the US average.
Chef Bruno Abate and inmates taking part in the Recipe for Change project.
Photo credit: Recipe for Change / Facebook recipeforchangeproject.org
Container Ship Chefs
In the bowels of every container ship, oil tanker or bulk carrier transporting goods across the globe, is the galley, commanded by the vessel chef who must keep the hard working crew well fueled for their very physical and strenuous jobs.
This means that meals are more about substance and quantity with a home-style feel. It’s also essential to maintain budgeted meal costs, and have certification in food handling safety, following strict hygiene protocols onboard.
Handling bulk supplies also requires a level of physical stamina. However, the most important trait as cargo ship chef is probably being mentally tough enough to cope with life at sea. While some 12-hour shifts are in 28 day rotations, others necessitate being away from family, and land, for months at a stretch.
The average Seafarers International Union Cook annual salary is approximately $60,000.
Oil platform chefs
Working in 12-hour shifts, serving a meal every 3 hours, today’s oil rig chefs are serving up high protein, low fat, fresh meals to the fit, health-conscious crew.
And with a sizable budget, the chefs are able to buy great produce and create high-end restaurant quality dishes. In fact, some oil rigs seem like giant floating hotels. Others, however, are not as cushy, and chefs are expected to pitch in to do whatever is required, be it washing dishes or cleaning equipment. Depending on the rig, the purpose built kitchens cater to anywhere from 40 to a few hundred.
The challenge, however, is the remoteness and harsh elements. Supplies only arrive every two weeks, so equipment failure or missing ingredients have to be worked around. It’s essential to avoid sickness, so hygiene is paramount. Temperature testing every dish before serving is the norm and leftovers are often macerated with other food wastage and pumped out.
As of Jan 30, 2023, the average annual pay for an Offshore Chef in the United States is $67,399 a year.
In the middle of the African bush, top chefs provide haute cuisine for the international guests booking a luxury safari experience.
Typically, the climate informs the menu, but shifting dietary trends have prompted the inclusion of more plant-based and gluten-free dishes, along with updated, gourmet takes on traditional meaty fare.
Being in remote locations, and with an eye on sustainability, today’s safari chefs use local ingredients and homegrown herbs, and generate minimal waste. A tailored touch is part of the experience, so the chef seeks out the client’s dietary restrictions in advance, often collaborating on special meals, such as a picnic in an elevated lookout spot, breakfast in a riverbed, or a romantic sunset dinner outdoors.
A Sous Chef’s average salary in Africa converts to between $500 -$1000 per month.
Yacht chefs may have an idea of the challenges of cooking at sea in close quarters, but only a submarine chef can understand what it’s like to prepare complete meals in that tight space for a hungry crew of 150 every six hours! Not to mention the mental strain of being submerged way below sea level for months at a time.
Although, by necessity, the food supplies must be relatively simple and preservable, chefs have to bear in mind that mealtimes are morale boosters for the isolated sailors, thus requiring a high level of creativity to prepare nutritious and enjoyable entrees and desserts, on a regular schedule.
The average US Navy Cook yearly pay in the United States is approximately $38,000, while a Navy Culinary Specialist may receive $58,000, both well above the national average.