The Magic of Mogamat Kahn
By Anton Bowring
My colleagues and I have given much attention recently to the splendours of the Southern Ocean and, increasingly, to the subject of Antarctica. It is hardly surprising. It isn’t every day that one visits Antarctica (although, shortly, our visit is about to be on an all too daily basis and, for some, it will be on an annual basis). This is all well and good but there are other matters of equal importance and, among these, ‘food’ is high on my list.
I have, before, extolled the virtues of Mogamat Kahn, our chef. Poor chap, he was supposed to take leave in Cape Town before we set off on our southern quest. But, a successor couldn’t be found and, at the last minute, he was signed on again for this voyage. Mogamat isn’t just a chef, he’s a magician. Since we replenished our stores in Cape Town, he has had more ingredients to work with (you may recall my previous blog where eggs and onions were rapidly becoming our staples). As a result, we are getting as diverse a menu as anyone could want and I challenge even the likes of Delia or Heston to come up with such dazzling combinations as Moroccan Fish, Spaghetti Bolognaise and Stir Fry Vegetables. A truly international combination, a fusion of gastronomic pleasures and, in my case, a receipt for chronic indigestion. Nevertheless, it was delicious and met with considerable approval by all my iceberg watching, bird spotting colleagues who have far healthier appetites than me. I don’t want to swank on Mogamat’s behalf but how about Macaroni Cheese Bake, Calamari Rolls and Rosemary Baked Potatoes with Fresh Salad or Curried Butternut with Tomato, Meat Balls and Gravy, Buttered Rice, Parsley Potatoes and Blanched Cabbage? This is pure artistry. Of course, you could choose just a selection of the offerings – but why? Everyone is hungry and the combinations not only taste wonderful, they look good on the plate too. As we head towards true wilderness and the remotest spot on Earth, Mogamat and his colleagues are bringing the world to our dinner plate and we are snapping and chomping, chewing and gulping it down with relish. Oh yes, there is plenty of relish, as well as chilli sauce, sweet chiili sauce, hot pickles, biltong flavoured cheese spread and cheese flavoured cheese spread and a cacophony of other spreads, sauces and ointments to liven up the dish – if ever it was needed. And all this is followed by a pudding – a secret dessert until it is delivered to your plate (or that of your neighbour). Pudding is always described on the menu as Chef’s Choice. There is no further clue as to what it might be. In consequence, there are many craning necks when the first person to order a portion of Chef’s Choice has it plonked unceremoniously in front of them by the genial steward Chad Africa. Tinned peaches in custard is a particular favourite and everyone loves the ice cream.
You’d think with such a wealth of provender there wouldn’t be much conversation between the eaters but you’d be wrong. Seating isn’t reserved. With the exception of the Captain who sits at the left hand end on the far side of the furthest table from the door, everyone sits where they can. Inevitably with a mixture of interests, there are natural groupings. So, for instance, there is a British Antarctic Survey or BAS group. They are all experienced polar people and have the biggest wrist watches. They know all the hill walks in the Lake District and are comfortable on skis in almost any snow conditions. Then there are the seafarers who tend to sit up the Captain’s end of the table and discuss the barometric pressure, personal experiences in remote ports around the world and the breaking strain of natural over synthetic fibre ropes. We have three doctors on board. They have a common interest in all matters surgical and medical although they never discuss medicine at meal times. The scientists are usually late because they are sampling the sea water every four hours. They do everything possible to the water except taste it. All this is fine if everyone stays within their group but, let us suppose, because there is only one seat left, that someone from the BAS group is forced to sit amongst the group of seafarers. You can see the discomfort in their faces. They look longingly towards their colleagues who, they can see, are deep in a Wainwright Walk while those around them are recalling the bum boats of the Cabo Verde Islands. I consider myself to be a seafarer (although not professional, unlike John Parsloe and the Captain, whose company I enjoy). Once John and I got separated by Scafell Pike. I was completely lost and almost had to call for help. I could see that John, too, was in danger of becoming comatose. His eyes were crossing dangerously as he manfully took mouthfuls of cauliflower oysters to steady himself. But generally, the conversation is accessible to all and, as long as you know your jargon whether nautical, polar, medical or scientific, you can enjoy the company of your neighbour while quietly admiring the explosion of flavours which hit you in the back of the throat.
For those of us who will remain on the ship, we still have a month or so of this exotic fare before we are reluctantly obliged to leave when SA Agulhas docks in Cape Town. For the Ice Group their days are truly numbered. It won’t be long before they are having to look after themselves and recalling with great affection, the wonderful spread that was the magic of Mogamat Kahn.