Cooking up a storm in Alaska

Last edited: 14 October 2016

It takes people with a whole host of skills to keep BP’s field operations running smoothly – they include the staff who look after the well-being of everyone who lives and works at a facility. BP Magazine meets a camp manager in Alaska who’s been doing just that for 40 years

For John Parry, taking on the role of chef at BP’s Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s frozen North Slope took some getting used to at first. In 1974, when he stepped off the airplane 250 miles (400 kilometres) north of the Arctic Circle, he was met by 30 mile-per-hour (48-kilometre-per-hour) winds that dashed across the Deadhorse Airport runway, creating clouds of sand-dry snow. 

Peering into the desolate North Slope landscape for the first time, all he could see were snowdrifts, the dark forms of parked vehicles and, farther into the gloom, some lights. He was told to grab his luggage from a wooden cargo box that had been placed on the runway. He shivered as he shook snow off his suitcases and located his ride into North America’s newest and largest oilfield, which was still three years away from starting up. 

This was a far cry from the Holiday Inn in Syracuse, New York, US, where he had been a chef; or even the Holiday Inn in Anchorage, where, for two years, he’d plied his culinary skills. 

First day at camp

After security check-in, room assignment and orientation to his new home— Construction Camp 1 (west of BP’s base operations centre—which later received the moniker ‘BP Hilton’), Parry made his way to the kitchen to assume his new role as chef. 

“For dinner, I cooked 22-ounce Porterhouse steaks, and the meal was really a hit,” he recalls. “On that first day, I had some doubts about how long I would last on the Slope, but then it became the second day and the third and the fourth…” 

And now, four decades later, and having graduated from chef to camp manager, Parry is still on the Slope doing what he does best, and what he has come to thoroughly enjoy: making workers as safe and comfortable as possible during their two-week shifts. 

“On the Slope, people are far from family and friends and familiar home surroundings,” Parry says. “The Slope is unique because people are living and working in the same location. As camp manager, my job, and the job of my crews, is to provide a pleasing working and living environment that is not only conducive to their safety, health and overall wellbeing, but also enhances their ability to perform their duties - often outdoors in extremely hostile weather.” 

“On that first day, I had some doubts about how long I would last on the Slope, but then it became the second day and the third and the fourth…”

John Parry

What’s on the menu?

A good selection of palatable and nutritious food, Parry affirms, is an important part of that equation. 
In the years leading up to Prudhoe Bay start-up in June 1977 and in subsequent years, Parry helped to develop camps to house increasing numbers of workers as facilities were added to the field and new wells were drilled. He notes that logistics, which include keeping the Slope supplied with food and other necessary items, have been an ongoing challenge, but have significantly improved over the years. 

“We have a great supply system that includes air shipments and trucking food and other materials over the Dalton Highway from Alaska’s interior city, Fairbanks,” he says. Parry adds that improved communications across the Slope have made camp management much easier and more efficient than in the early days. 

And speaking of days, what about all those days he has racked up since 1974, including the first one—getting off the airplane in blowing snow? Given the chance, would he do it all over again? “You bet,” he nods with a big smile. “I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.”

In the spotlight: BP in Alaska

  • Alaska, or ‘The Last Frontier’ as it is nicknamed, is among the top five oil-producing states in the US
  • BP has the largest share of the 800-mile long Trans Alaska Pipeline System
  • More than $1.3 billion spent with vendors in 2015
  • More than 16,200 jobs supported in 2015
  • 1,750 employees
  • Oil revenues account for 90% of the state’s discretionary spending

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