A country club gourmet Chef lands a camp cook job in Alaska and finds out he has a lot to learn about camp cooking in the frozen wilderness. Luckily he finds out he doesn’t have to cook grizzlies and moose under ground with one match.

I heard there was a lot of money to be made cooking in Alaska bush camps, and I was dumb enough to think I could fly to Anchorage with two hundred dollars in my Levis and pull it off.

When the plane landed in Anchorage it was ten below. I was dressed in typical Los Angeles clothes: jeans and light cowboy boots. No problem. I figured I’d just go to this big company I’d heard about and they’d send me right out on a camp job. It didn’t happen that way.

I found out that in Anchorage the only way to get a cooking job was to go through the union. I slogged around on the snowy sidewalks getting my boots soaked and freezing my feet off until I found the union hall. “I’m a cook,” I announced to the dispatcher. “I’m looking for work.”

“Cook, huh?” She looked me over like if you’ve seen one you’ve seen “em all and referred me to a long list of names on a clipboard. “You”ll have to sign up on that sheet with the rest of “em.”

With sinking hopes I looked at the list of about thirty names. Next to each name the applicant had written down the kind of cooking job he or she was qualified for. Each one had written in the mysterious words “Bull cook.”

The term sounded ominously professional. I figured that was the finish of any hope I had of getting sent out on a big-paying camp job.

How naive I was to think that a city boy like me could come up here and compete with all these veteran bull cooks, these old-timers who no doubt knew all about cooking wild game, who thoroughly understood the mysteries of cooking beans underground in big earthenware pots, and probably knew how to bake sourdough bread, too.

It looked like it was time to drag my butt back to the lower forty-eight. I wrote my name and timidly followed it with the single pomposity, “Chef.”

Oh, how these Alaskans would laugh upon seeing that title. It was like walking into a Russian tractor factory and applying for a job as a seamstress. “Oh yeah, cheechako, let”s see ya skin a moose!”

Cooking underground!

I was plenty worried. Suppose I did get sent out on a camp job. I’d look great out in the bush stirring beans over an open fire with the snow falling off trees and putting my fire out. Then some hunter would probably drag in a grizzly and want me to cook it underground with a secret method known only to bull cooks. They’d laugh me out of camp. I wondered if you were supposed to take the hair off the grizzly first.

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  • Carolyn Flesch on Sep 12, 2007

    I enjoyed your saga of cooking in an Alaskan camp. That would be a very challenging job. It sounds like you made the best of it.

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