For a stranded Wollongong chef, the only way to deal with Tasmania’s bushfires was to create his own hell’s kitchen.
Todd Pitchford teamed up with a touring Chinese cook to take charge of feeding thousands taking refuge at the Nubeena civic centre on the Tasman Peninsula.
‘‘I walked into the kitchen and took over because there was that much food coming in and we were thinking food safety, food poisoning, all that sort of thing,’’ the 25-year-old said.
Mr Pitchford and his partner Lucy Armstrong had been visiting Port Arthur and stopped for a swim at Pirates Bay.
They saw massive plumes of smoke coming over a nearby hill, took the advice of the local pub and headed west to Nubeena.
There Mr Pitchford found his own scary scene - food everywhere and no one with the expertise to look after it.
‘‘Everyone’s freezers were obliviously defrosting (with power cuts) so it was just pouring in,’’ he said.
‘‘Guys were donating whole salmon.
‘‘We had oysters, we had mussels, we had calamari.
‘‘We were almost eating like kings.’’
While his cooking partner churned out the fried rice, Mr Pitchford formed teams to feed an estimated 2000 mouths.
‘‘I was constantly prepping for dinner, lunch, making pastas,’’ he said.
‘‘We had girls on a sandwich station. We had a brigade of girl scouts at one point.
‘‘We didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know anybody, we wanted to keep busy I think.’’
Mr Pitchford praised the ‘‘awesome’’ local community, whose musicians even dropped in to entertain the crowd.
Evacuated to Hobart by boat, he and Ms Armstrong are now waiting for the Arthur Highway to reopen so they can pick up their car and head home.