Oct 3, 2012

The People You Meet: The 5* Culinary Genius, Our Cook Tashi

I find myself on this expedition constantly thinking about food. Not because I’m hungry or because there is little else to think about but rather, because the food on this expedition is sooooo good..! I would venture a guess to say that there are few people in this world who can put together a 5*, 3-course meal at an altitude of 5600m consisting of homemade tomato soup with a spicy poppadom side dish followed by fresh melt-in-your-mouth asparagus, savory rosti-potato accompanied by a tender yak steak grilled to perfection. For dessert, a perfectly baked apple pie is produced with a flourish and garnished with warm custard. The ‘vin du jour’ is a rare boxed specialty, the very finest vintage of ‘San Bernadino’ a dry red wine straight from Bilbul, NSW…. 

The genius-chef behind these culinary masterpieces is Tashi,  the high-altitude chef (culinary genius) for all Alpenglow Himalayan expeditions. Tashi initially started his career as a trekking guide but soon found that he was better suited to working as a cook on expeditions. Over the course of the years working with teams on mountains including Everest, Manaslu, Ama Dablam he has earned a reputation as one of the top expeditions cooks in the Himalaya. During this time he has developed a vast portfolio of recipes and cooking techniques to accommodate the challenges of cooking above 5000m where extreme cold, lack of oxygen, lack of fresh supplies and sometimes finicky taste buds can present a challenge. He has learned to manage and accommodate all – with a smile and hospitality that knows no bounds. 

Several years ago, an expedition client recognized Tashi’s talent and passion for cooking and invited him to work in Switzerland for several weeks – where he has continues to spend a few weeks per year. Here Tashi refined many of his existing recipes and added bread-making, croissants and other mouth watering pastries to his repertoire… and he hasn’t looked back since..!

The traditional Nepali food eaten by most Nepalis including the Sherpas who provide the backbone of so many expeditions is a dish called “dal bhat“ consisting of cooked or steamed rice or sometimes other cereal bhat and lentil soup dal. It is generally eaten twice a day: mid-morning and early evening. Whilst it’s a delicious meal, I think that most people who haven’t grown up with dal bhat as a staple part of their diet would struggle to eat it twice a day!

In speaking with Tashi, he lamented that for Makalu (due to the remoteness of the mountain) he was restricted by the lack of fresh vegetables and lack of an oven. Given that the nearest major village is a 7-day walk away, and we have not yet had a day without delicious meals I found it hard to believe that our diets would have improved. I’ve eaten everything from yak steak to baked spaghetti, to pizza, to chicken schnitznel, pancakes with REAL maple syrup (direct from Canada!)….. 

I’m also most impressed by the great care and attention that is paid to hygiene on the mountain – absolutely essential to ensure that all climbers stay healthy and strong.  The kitchen – while basic compared to something you’d find in a restaurant in London – is immaculate and strictly managed with rinse, wash and dry stations set up and all ingredients arranged and organized. Tashi is supported by two equally kind, hard-working kitchen boys who help prepare, serve and clean up after the meals – all with a smile and the hospitality so characteristic of the Himalaya.

I’m most grateful for all of the pride that Tashi takes in both the kitchen and in the preparation of our meals. Without him I’m certain I, along with the rest of the team, wouldn’t even have had the energy to set foot on this mountain…! 

Now, it’s nearly 6pm – dinner time – so best prepare for yet another high altitude feast..!


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