Steven johnson

Arctic cook/baker at Ilisagvik College in Barrow, Alaska

Interviews

2009

Stephen Johnson, a cook and baker at Ilisagvik College in Barrow, shares his journey from Oregon to Alaska, where he has been working since 1980. Starting his culinary career in 1967, Stephen pursued college education and eventually moved to Alaska in 1978, where he and his wife managed various hospitality services. In Anchorage, he worked for Simon and Seafort’s before transitioning to work related to the pipeline, particularly in seismic exploration for oil and seasonal work on offshore vessels. Stephen’s work took him across the tundra and included feeding crews in challenging environments. He later worked on oil rigs and experienced significant changes in communication over the years, from radio phones to more advanced technologies. Reflecting on his career, Stephen mentions working in isolated locations where air surveillance and supply flights were the main connections to the outside world. His narrative provides a glimpse into the demanding and dynamic life of culinary professionals in remote and challenging Arctic environments.

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Stephen Johnson, a cook and baker at Ilisagvik College in Barrow, shares his experiences working in the Arctic since 1980. Originally from Gladstone, Oregon, and later Anchorage, he started his cooking career in 1967 and moved to Alaska in 1978. His work journey includes managing a tourist hotel and working for Simon and Seafort’s in Anchorage. To support his growing family, he worked on seismic exploration for oil in the Arctic, adapting to the unique challenges of cooking in remote locations. He recalls adjusting to the saltwater environment, which impacted both cooking and personal hygiene, and shares anecdotes about encountering polar bears and vast herds of caribou. Stephen’s time in the Arctic has been marked by long periods away from his family, relying on mail and phone calls for communication. He mentions the impact of the internet in easing communication with his wife and six grandchildren. His family’s involvement in the Arctic includes his stepdaughter, Irene Bedard, known for voicing Pocahontas in the Disney movie. Stephen’s narrative highlights the resilience and adaptability required to live and work in the demanding environment of the Arctic.

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Stephen Johnson discusses the importance of physical fitness and a high-calorie diet in the Arctic due to the harsh environment. He notes that people in the area typically consume three to four thousand calories daily. To maintain fitness, many engage in activities like hiking and long-distance running. He shares a story about the development of long-distance running in Prudhoe Bay, particularly an organized run called the Endicott Run that started in the mid-1980s. This event, held on a man-made island connected by a causeway, attracted hundreds of participants and required careful planning, including bear watches for polar bear safety. The run was a success and led to other similar events in the area. Additionally, he mentions a unique form of exercise at Kaparuk, where people walk between two large camps about a half-mile apart, jokingly referring to this as the “Kaparuk Marathon.” Johnson’s narrative highlights the community’s creative ways to stay fit and healthy in the challenging Arctic environment.

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Stephen Johnson, a seasoned cook and baker working in the North Slope, Alaska, shares his experiences working in various remote camps. Among the 100 camps he’s visited, two particularly stand out: Neighbors Alaska Drilling 1ES and the Kaparik River Inn. The Neighbors camp is memorable due to the extreme cold and prolonged darkness of the winter, where he was responsible for preparing meals for satellite oil drilling rigs. The demanding nature of this job included ensuring meals remained warm during transportation to various sites. The Kaparik River Inn, on the other hand, was notable for its challenging conditions, such as leaks during the thaw and the need to cater to 500 people in an aging facility. Stephen recalls a particularly hectic first day where he had to improvise cooking methods due to equipment failures. Despite these challenges, Stephen finds satisfaction in providing homestyle food and a friendly service to the workers, earning their respect and appreciation. His story reflects the hard work and ingenuity required to cater to large crews in the demanding Arctic environment.

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