Some of you may be wondering what the catering arrangements are on Ernie, as the truck is called; this is only to be expected. The first part of the arrangements is the cooking rota, which is compiled by our glorious leader Roger according to some mysterious and arcane process known only to him. This process produces a list of pairs whose responsibilities are to buy the ingredients necessary and to cook two successive dinners and breakfasts for the 25 of us now on the truck, on a budget of US$1.00 per day per person. To some of you this may seem like not very much money; how, I hear you cry, can 25 hungry climbers be fed on such a low sum of money? The answer is simple - very badly! If we are to eat anything other than 'Cheap veg slop a la mode' we generally have to supplement the budget from our own pockets. One gets to know quickly those who are prepared to do this and those who are not...
Another aspect of the arrangements are the truck's stores. There are certain basic staple foodstuffs that are available without erosion of the budget: rice, pasta, lentils, sugar, flour, oil, spices, chickpeas, and various types of beans. Pretty much all else has to be purchased from the budget. Because the levels of 'can't be arsed' are generally quite high on the truck we normally only use the spices, rice and pasta, with some folk venturing into bread-making on occasion.
The infrastucture arrangements are the cooker, installed under the main body of the truck, and the attendant gas supply, two gas bottles one carried under the truck in a locker and the other strapped to the rear of the truck. The stove's burners are rubbish, meaning that it is nearly impossible to heat the enormous pans we use, meaning it is effectively impossible to produce pasta or rice in the normal condition for eating. Fine for those with no teeth, a tad on the soft side for the rest of us. Another typically HotRock thing is that the gas regulator is broken. Now, you might think the sensible thing would be to acquire a new regulator, and so reduce the risk of an accidental fire, quite apart from wasting the gas as it gently leaks away at the bottle head. Well, you'd be right - but of course we just carry on in the HotRock way, leaking propane/butane mix into the atmosphere. Ho humm. (Ahh, I've just been told by Simon it was the bottle and not the regulator.)
Now, given these arrangements, I expect you're wondering what we actually eat. Here follows a typical daily menu:
Breakfast: Porridge, with an additive of some kind. The worst of these has undoubtedly been mixed nuts, that was a culinary experiment too far. Or sweet rice, which is almost, but not completely, unlike rice pudding.
Lunch: we buy our own lunches. The canny (or tight, take your choice) try to use any remains of the previous evening's meal for lunch; this explains several things: the careful selection of the dish or plate for the first sitting at dinner, so that one can get first place in the second; the proliferation of plastic food containers; and the high risk of injury when trying to beat Andy the driver to second helpings. Otherwise, we eat cheese, paté, tortillas, bread, crackers and salami, all of which stays surprisingly fresh in Ernie's wooden lockers. Nevertheless, it pays to be not too concerned about 'best before' dates...
Dinner: Dinner normally takes about two hours to prepare and when ready is announced in traditional High Society style by beating the gong, which in HotRock's case is acheived by smashing the pan lids together like cymbals. The menu varies from vegetable curry (quite popular), vegetable soup, and other vegetable stuff to more adventurous dishes such as Macaroni Cheese (without the cheese, as this is too expensive), Risotto (a cunning way to hide the overcooked rice), and (once) a beef stew (although I suspect the meat for this was paid for by Gareth and was an attempt to erase from our memories the lower-than-average quality of the previous evening's vegetable thing. I may be wrong).
Ee Fu is our Master Chef, and we can always be assured that he will make the best of any kitchen circumstance. The problem with this though is that, if one is partnered with Ee Fu, then one has to conjure up the same enthusiasm as his for the task, and with the levels of 'can't be arsed' being quite high, this can be a challenge the failure to respond which results in one being Eu Fu's kitchen bitch for some hours.
Dinner is enhanced by a couple of standard accompaniments: Vino de Cartón (the best of which seems to be Vino Toro from Argentina) and one of the several 'danger'sauces that circulate around the truck. Occasionally some generous soul will arrange for cheese and biscuits (unlike the Macaroni Cheese, with cheese), and we always enjoy cake (either from a shop or, better, made by Marese, that kitchen Goddess) when it is somebody's birthday.
So there we are. When I joined the truck Roger said we eat well; I think the best way to interpret this is that we eat lots, and the 'well' bit is variable. But, being Hot Rock, the quality doesn't seem to matter somehow and a spirit of tolerance pervades matters culinary. Even towards my experimental Sweet Pasta Pudding for breakfast. Just.