Evan Elman, 26, grew up in Cambridge and attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School before heading to college at the University of British Columbia. After cooking for a series of restaurants in Vancouver, Elman spent 50 days as a sous chef aboard a 383-foot polar research and luxury tourism ship that traveled to Antarctica.
Q. How did you land this gig?
A. I didn’t seek out going to Antarctica; the opportunity fell in my lap. A friend’s mother posted on Facebook: “Any chefs looking to go to Antarctic from October to December?” I private-messaged her and she forwarded the e-mail address for the company. I shot my resume off and 10 minutes later my phone was buzzing. I talked back and forth with the company for a couple days and eventually they told me to pack my bags because I was going to Antarctica.
Q. Was it worth it financially?
A. I made more money in three months than I ever could have working at any restaurant in the city. All of my airfare, accommodation, transportation, food, and living expenses were covered for 50 days. Even the days I was traveling. In my line of work, that is unheard of.
Q. How much free time did you have each day?
A. My day started anywhere from 5 to 7 in the morning. I usually took a nap around 2, and would then work from 3 or 4 to 10 at night. All in all, my weeks wound up being around 100 hours. I never had a day off.
Q. How often were you able to get off the ship?
A. At least once a week, usually to see wildlife. I saw wildlife that less than 1 percent of the world will ever be able to witness. It was straight out of a Discovery Channel special. I half expected David Attenborough to pop out of the grass and begin talking about the wandering albatross.
Q. What was the highlight of the trip?
A. One day I took an hour break with Katie, a 33-year-old merchant marine and pastry chef from Seattle. We went on a private tour of Gold Harbor in the South Georgia Islands, a one-mile stretch of beach that was covered by seals and penguins. The snow was champagne powder and penguins were sliding on their bellies down a big hill. I know cats are cute and all, but penguins have them beat. Penguins are so awkward when they walk on land, they sort of just waddle. But in the water, they are streamlined like fish.
Q. Who else was there?
A. It was just Katie, myself, and about 600 penguins. The snow was untouched. Nobody had set foot on this island in about 200 days — it was very early in the season. Katie took off to the right, I went straight ahead and walked up a white hill where tiny black dots were awkwardly waddling from colony to colony. I laid down on my stomach in the snow and got my camera ready. The penguins walked around me like I didn’t exist. Some pecked at me, but to them I was not a predator. I stayed there for a while shooting photos and thinking about how my life led me to that moment. I thought about how cool it was that this was my “break.” No kidding. This was my break from work. The entire excursion took an hour.
Q. What was worst part of the trip?
A. Going through the Drake Passage in 30-foot seas while having to cook for 120 people.
Q. Takeaway experience?
A, If you spend 16 hours a day cooking for 50 days straight, the little things and comforts that you have in day to day life don’t matter anymore. I didn’t miss my phone, Facebook, Netflix, or any of that. I was in nature submerged into sheer wilderness bliss. After it was all done I came home and sat in my parents’ living room in Miami thinking about the whole experience. I was now a full-blown sous chef. I had prepared three plated meals a day for 120 people. I boarded that ship as a tadpole and left as a bullfrog.
Q. Would you do it again?
A. It was a great experience but I’m hoping I never have to be on a boat for that long ever again.
Q. Now what?
A, I love cooking. I’ll use the next exciting job as fuel to keep my passion going. I’ve been to Antarctica and I’m now a first cook at Hawksworth, the second-best restaurant in Canada. This summer I’ll be going to Peregrine Lodge, a five-star fishing resort in British Columbia. In the fall I’m hoping to move somewhere hot so that I can feel like I never need to take a vacation.