At Summit they call it "Bradtoberfest." Brad Whelchel honed his Bavarian culinary skills for Oktoberfest at Summit. Photo:

A few weeks ago, the Summit weekly mentioned an Oktoberfest celebration with a tremendous Bavarian meal and polka music beamed over the Internet (which was somewhat less than tremendous, according to some). We wanted to know the back-story on the celebration, so we wrote to our colleagues.

Turns out that mechanic Brad Whelchel is the Oktoberfestmeister, but not because he considers himself Bavarian (some of his folks are Pennsylvania Deutsch). “I like to immerse myself in other cultures and festivities,” Brad explained.

“Two of my favorite holidays have to be Oktoberfest and St. Patrick's Day.  They are not the most traditional/religious of holidays, but they sure are fun!”, he wrote. Brad has celebrated the festival for years, often in Helen, Georgia (whose European settlers were Bavarian), near his home in Tennessee, so he knew a thing or two about Oktoberfest.

“My original plans were to tour Europe in the autumn, with the centerpiece of the trip being Oktoberfest in Munich.  But I got the call for the mechanic job in August, and took that instead,” Brad wrote.  “Around the middle of September I started thinking ‘I should be in Munich right now,’ and began to formulate my own Oktoberfest celebration up here.”

Caption for pix of Oktoberfest spread: “The Summit crew started with Giant soft pretzels with hot mustard lead the food parade.  Then, slow-cooked kielbasa and sauerkraut, German potato salad and spaetzle dumplings. Later, rouladen (slices of flank steak stuffed with hot mustard, bacon, onion, and pickles), jagerschnitzel (thin, breaded pork chops simmered with mushroom-and-onion gravy). And finally, hoernchen, horn-shaped pastries filled with preserves, cinnamon sugar, fruit, etc.

How did he manage some of the more exotic ingredients at Summit? “The food inventory is quite varied; previous crews have requested different specialty items, so now we have things like Japanese Nori wrappers for sushi, cèpes for French mushroom dishes, and this year I brought up my FAVORITE barbecue sauce of all time, Rendezvous!  It comes from the best rib joint in America, The Rendezvous in downtown Memphis.  We've put it on basically everything, and I have another bottle to leave for the rest of the winter crews.  I also brought Thai iced tea leaves, Indian spice chai, and beignet mix from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.”

Brad admits that most of his cooking experience, beyond barbeque, has been gained in Summit’s well-stocked kitchen.  He chose well-rated recipes off the Internet with ingredients compatible with Summit’s food stores. “The salt used on the pretzels wasn't as large as the true German pretzel salt, but it was still coarse and chunky.”

We got to thinking about Summit and how the population up there on the world’s roof loves a shindig. Summiteers honor all kinds of occasions with food, games, parades, costume parties, and so on. In addition to the traditional holidays, Summit celebrates the equinoxes and solstices, of course—and also such things as completion of major science milestones or operational efforts. Since long-time Summit manager, Kathy Young, was in Denver last week attending our annual meeting, we cornered her and asked about the penchant for social gatherings.  “We celebrate because it’s something for us in an isolated community to do,” She explained. “It’s really nice for us to acknowledge the effort it takes to make Summit run and to do science here—plus, it’s a nice way to pass the time.”

And time is passing. The crew keeping Summit’s experiments running during this first phase of winter can now measure their time in isolation in days, as the incoming crew is due on the ice next week. Clearly, that’s another occasion for celebration.