You don’t need me to tell you that southern cooking is dominating the minds and filling the stomachs of serious gastronomes everywhere; the variations of grits and fried chicken populating trendy restaurant menus alone could have tipped you off. But there have been plenty of other harbingers, literary in nature, including an October 2011 New Yorker profile of Sean Brock, the Charleston chef extraordinaire who goes to great lengths to preserve the south’s indigenous produce and livestock; the February issue of Bon Appetit, which featured 41 “soulful recipes from American’s new food capital,” plus a fried chicken leg in all it’s battered glory on the cover; and a great piece in the Globe and Mail that focuses on another star chef of the southern cooking movement, Ottawa-raised Hugh Acheson. It’s actually pretty exciting that a North American regional cuisine is front and centre, stealing some thunder from the Italians. (Personally, I hope that Maritime cooking, from both Canada and the U.S., is next!)
But I’ve also noticed another contender for southern food supremacy: Antarctica. In the third issue of Lucky Peach, the magazine launched by chef and restaurateur David Cheng in collaboration with McSweeney’s last year, there’s a charming interview with the dinner production line cook for the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. (In fact, the entire issue is a keeper.) And in the current issue of CityBites magazine, there’s mention of a limited edition book about to be published called, The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning. It’s the story of a Russian-Canadian clean up project told by the two women in charge of the well-being of the volunteers, who culled their journals, recipes, menu plans and photographs for the book.
Of course, the south needn’t actually worry about Antarctica stealing their status. The continent has a population of zero permanent residents; most food can’t actually grow there (although, according to the website Cool Antarctica, “some stations grow fresh vegetables on a hydroponic system where the plants grow in slowly circulating water with nutrients dissolved in it,”); ice makes it hard to harvest whales, seals, fish and birds for dinner, and The Antarctic Treaty forbids the import of soil because of the risk of introducing non-native insects, fungi or bacteria. So the chance of the South Pole coming up with a regional cuisine that could compete with southern cooking is, well, nil.
Still, because there are 4,000 plus people from 30 different nations who man the permanent stations and field camps, it’s safe to assume that there have been some fairly interesting dinner parties held on the continent. And perhaps one or two concluded with a siphoning of scotch—preferably from the century-old cases left behind in the Antarctic ice by Ernest Shackleton.