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At Fort McMurray's oil-sands camp, thousands of kilos of turkey just another meal Add to ...

To those sweating over hot ovens and temperamental meat thermometers, consider for a moment the oil sands cook – or, rather, team of cooks – who will spend the day staring down 1,500 kilograms of bird.

Then consider that this tremendous volume of turkey will be served at just one camp, PTI Group’s Wapasu Creek Lodge – which, with 4,500 workers, makes up roughly 10 per cent of those in the Fort McMurray region camps.

In other words, simple math would suggest that oil sands workers alone will consume some 15 tonnes of Thanksgiving-day turkey. That is the weight, in turkeys, of a dozen Honda Civics.

“It always impresses me the amount of food that comes out of these facilities,” said Philipp Gruner, PTI’s oil sands senior operations director.

And though turkey is unusual in the oil sands, it’s barely even the centrepiece for Monday dinner in the camps, where mounds of food are a deliberate consolation for days and weeks spent far from loved ones. For workers who might not like traditional fare – or just like the idea of a piled-high plate – the buffets will be full.

Take Sunday Creek Lodge, a smaller camp run by a company called Black Diamond that is currently home to 500 people. There, kitchen staff will prepare 90 kgs of turkey alongside 75 kgs of ham and 20 kgs of salmon.

“We want to make it as homely for the guys that are stuck in camp on holidays as we possibly can,” said Dwayne Walsh, the camp’s manager.

Part of that comes down to decorating, and dining rooms across northeastern Alberta will be spruced up with Thanksgiving themes, providing a brief diversion for workers whose holiday really isn’t a holiday. In an industry that doesn’t sleep, a mark on a calendar doesn’t mean much.

“If you’re on shift, you’re on shift,” said Simon Cooke, co-ordinator at the Christina Lake lodge run by Cenovus Energy. “It’s luck of the draw.”

In fact, what is perhaps most remarkable about Thanksgiving in the oil sands is how little different it is from business as usual. Those running camps feed legions of workers, every day, and it’s not just holidays that require giant quantities of meat. On prime rib nights at Wapasu Creek alone, the kitchen orders 200 prime ribs, each weighing over six kilos. That’s one-and-a-quarter tonnes of prime rib, on a weeknight.

The quantities are driven largely by the numbers of people, but also by the size of their appetites.

“We have steak night every Saturday. I’ve seen guys eat four to five steaks,” Mr. Walsh said. These are regular 10-ounce steaks. That means some workers are individually consuming 1.4 kgs of steak.

“These aren’t very large individuals. This is your average guy. He’s maybe just shy of six feet tall,” Mr. Walsh said. “You wouldn’t think he’d eat like that, but I’ve seen it.”

For those accustomed to feeding appetites like that, Thanksgiving is largely just another meal. Kitchens don’t bring in extra staff. Food deliverers don’t send extra trucks.

Perhaps the only difference involves the logistics of pumpkin pie – which some camps will bake fresh – and turkeys. They are big, and they take time to cook. Sunday Creek is equipped with two kitchens that possess a total of six conventional ovens and two convection ovens. Normally, dinner cooking would start at 2 p.m. On Thanksgiving, it starts at 10 a.m., as turkeys are rotated in and out, then carved and kept warm.

At Wapasu Creek, the turkey is ordered partially taken apart – breast still on the bone, brown meat in chunks. It saves space in the ovens, and cuts down on one of the most laborious parts of handling any bird – even for the manufacturers of meals who keep the oil sands running.

“Obviously, deboning 160 turkeys – that’s a bit of a challenge of its own,” Mr. Gruner said.

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