- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Have knives - will travel.

Annapolis area chef Darby Butts has taken that notion to the ends of the earth.

Several weeks ago he was running Davis’ Pub in Eastport, but on Oct. 30 he landed at the South Pole. There, for the next year he’ll be running the food service operation at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, one of three Antarctic stations run by the National Science Foundation.

“It’s minus-19, but windy. The wind chill is minus 47,” he told The Capital via satellite phone.

That cold isn’t the only problem. Communications are hampered. Phone calls with the rest of the world are confined to but a few hours a day of satellite access. That goes for email, too.

The weather had temporarily grounded flights, which are the lifeline for the station. Several daily flights shuttle people and material between the pole and McMurdo Station on the coast of the continent and New Zealand.

That includes fresh food that Darby and his staff prepare for the summer staff of about 150 scientists and support personnel.

“During the summer season we get our freshies - fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy - from New Zealand.”

But in February everything changes. The sun begins to set. During March declining twilight leads to complete darkness. The sun won’t to rise again until October.

No flights in or out for months. The South Pole station is buttoned up and a skeletal crew of perhaps 50 scientists and support staff remain to keep experiments and the physical plant going.

The temperature drops from a balmy 19 below to an average daily high of 65 below during the coldest weeks.

And Butts’ crew shifts from freshies to frozen.

“Meals are planned out weeks ahead. And we pull food to thaw way in advance,” he said.

He and his crew work 10-hour days, six days a week.

There is not a lot of spare time, but with 24 hours of daylight you can take in all the outdoors has to offer any time.

“When I got off the plane, it was breathtaking,” Butts said. “It is pretty wild. On a good clear day, looking out the window it is like looking out over the ocean.”

And there is plenty to do. Inside there are movies, the musically inclined will band together, and other diversions.

Outside there are also activities - during the summer that is.

“They have a disc golf course laid out. You can go cross country skiing. And they have tours of the different outlying buildings where the many scientific projects are underway,” Butts said.

Butts came to love travel at an early age. Before grade school his family started going to the British Virgin Islands for a couple weeks every winter.

“He and I traveled extensively. Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe,” said his mother, Merritt Butts. “A couple years ago he went to Kenya and Tanzania.”

She doesn’t seem too worried about his latest adventure. “Funny, but there is very little worry for him on my front,” she said. “There is the inherent danger of being in such a hostile environment, but it’s a serious, well-equipped facility and there is lots of training involved.”

And screening, too. Butts said one he was accepted as a potential candidate for the job he underwent a vigorous battery of tests, both physical and psychological, to determine if he could withstand the harsh conditions and isolation.

En route to the bottom of the world, he and others stopped in Colorado for team training and emergency training too. “I trained as a firefighter, we all have extra jobs to do,” Butts said.

Before he landed in Antarctica, there was a stop in Australia. And with that Butts has been to all 7 continents, and some 30 countries - so far.

Merritt Butts said her son, who attended Gilman School in Baltimore, always wanted to be a chef. “He just always knew that’s what he wanted to do. In nursery school he’d dress up with a chef’s hat. He came by it honestly,” she said.

But he never attended culinary school. He learned at the stove.

And like many he started off washing dishes.

“My first job, I was 15, was at Cantler’s. Washing dishes.” he said. By 23 he was an executive chef.

He worked at Cantler’s through high school, then went to college at James Madison University. “But I worked in restaurants all through school. When I got out I stuck with it.”

He did stints at McGarvey’s, Northwoods, Sean Donlon’s (the precursor to Stan and Joe’s), then on to Tsunami, and opened Metropolitan.

Six years ago he crossed Spa Creek to Davis’s Pub, and became general manager.

Now he’s at the ends of the earth, and soon faces the challenge of the dark winter.

“We only have each other, and we have to rely on each other,” he said.

One way to cope is irreverent fun. Once the sun goes down the winter-over crew gathers to watch “The Thing,” John Carpenter’s movie about a creature from outer space attacking a South Pole station.

What’s next? Butts said once he finishes his obligation next November, he plans to travel a bit.

His mom just hopes he’s home for Christmas.

___

Information from: The Capital, https://www.capitalgazette.com/

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide