Chefs on Tour: cooking for the Tour de France peloton

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If you follow the pro road scene and keep a close eye on social media you’ll notice that many teams turned to self-contained kitchens at races like the Tour de France. At this year’s Tour we caught up with some of the people inside those kitchens; the chefs that keep the riders fed and watered, ensuring they not only stay fighting fit throughout the Tour but that they enjoy great-tasting food throughout. After all, soggy pasta for three weeks would ruin anyone’s morale.

Wild-card team, Bora-Argon 18 is at the Tour for the second time, having been here last year as NetApp-Endura. With the team’s new title sponsor Bora being heavily involved in the business of selling kitchen equipment it’s no surprise that they have the most stunning kitchen on Tour this year — a huge perspex and steel box sits on the back of a truck.

This kitchen is the workplace of Austrian Claudia Eder, the team’s nutritionist and chef.

Bora's cooking truck being hoisted at the team presentation.
Bora’s cooking truck being hoisted at the team presentation.

Much like when the riders work closely with team’s bike sponsor to fine-tune their equipment, Claudia worked closely with Bora on getting her custom kitchen to a level that she was happy with.

“[Bora] called me and asked what I wanted in the truck late last year,” Eder said. “They started planning it in December and by March it was finished. We wanted it for Tirreno-Adriatico but we just missed out by a little bit of time. It’s really made a difference this year.”

Looking around the gleaming kitchen (which, somewhat oddly, can be hoisted 30 meters in the air) it’s easy to see why Claudia is happy with it. A huge TV screen next to all the gleaming work surfaces and kitchenware helps Claudia keep up to date on the race action and in the know as to whether to prepare a celebratory cake or not.

Oddly for a team chef, cooking is just a hobby for Claudia — her real focus is on completing her thesis in sports nutrition. Claudia doesn’t attend every race that the team participates in, just the bigger stage races.

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Given Bora-Argon 18 is a German squad it’s no surprise there are aspects of the country’s orderly culture in Claudia’s kitchen. It also explains why Claudia prefers the truck over using hotel kitchens.

“It’s a big difference — if you go from hotel to hotel you don’t know what cooking implements that they (the hotel) may or may not have,” Claudia said. “In the truck I have everything that I need and know how to use it — it’s easier to plan”.

You’d think cooking for a whole team would throw up dietary problems, but according to Claudia the Bora-Argon 18 guys aren’t all that fussy when it comes to food.

“We don’t have guys with allergies, but there are some guys who prefer using protein products and others who don’t, so I have to adjust for this at times,” Claudia said. “Apart from that our guys are easy to deal with.

“Working on the Tour and with a professional team is great, it helps so much with writing my masters thesis. I think it’s important not to be just a cook but a nutritionist too.

“I see everything — I like to tell the guys that they need this or that for their body, that it’s important to eat certain foods. The guys know a lot with regards to what is important for them though. I’m a big fan of avocado, nuts, smoothies and juices, especially on a morning — they need easy things to digest.

“On an evening I always cook fish or meat for the proteins, lots of salad, vegetables, and obviously carbohydrates. Surprisingly they don’t want pasta. I do rice, polenta, potatoes.

If they win I’ll be making a cake for sure –I’ll have their name on it. We can’t have a win everyday though as I don’t want them to eat cake for three weeks. That wouldn’t be too good”.

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Over at Trek Factory Racing, chef Kim Rokkjaer has been with the team for five years and prefers to prepare food for the team the way he always has — by using hotel kitchens.

“I alway use hotel kitchens, for sure, I prefer to do it like that,” Kim said. “I think it’s a little unprofessional to stand in a parking lot somewhere, where you have maybe 100-200 meters between you and where the team eat, never close to the riders.

“I prefer to go to the kitchen even if it’s dirty and filthy, I still use it as an inspiration.

“It’s not that difficult to organise with the hotel kitchens to get set up with everything. I spend two days before a Grand Tour phoning and emailing the hotels. I couldn’t stand in the same kitchen for four weeks never seeing fellow staff — here I have the views of the Pyrenees.

“I’m not just the chef either, I always tell the waiters that I’m the waiter. I want to serve the guys. If they ask for water I open the bottle, if they want butter I give them it.

“This way if the team doctor comes to me asking why this rider has put on 200, 300 or 400 grams in weight I know exactly why, I can then say: ‘Maybe because this guy ate four or five croissants’ — I know exactly what’s going on with my guys.

“If I’m in a parking lot I can’t do that, unless you have a truck like Sky or Europcar where you have a dining room in the truck as well. But in my opinion that’s shit too. The guys eat in the same place twice a day for 28 days. It’s better to sit here and look at the Pyrenees that you’re going to attack tomorrow.”

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Kim’s a straight-talking guy and when asking if any of his riders are picky eaters it seems that only one is, but he’s also a guy that can afford to be.

“I don’t want to answer about who’s a picky eater, but he’s not here. He was, but he isn’t now. But I respect that in him also,” Kim said. “The guy is clever. If I put in eggs or if I put in something he wouldn’t usually eat into a recipe I tell him, and then it’s up to him to choose. He’s a real clever rider — a lot of others on the team learn from him.”

Kim keeps the guys fuelled outside of the race; the job of preparing race food falls to the soigneurs. It’s the square two meals that are Kim’s priority for the day — breakfast and dinner — plus the snack that the riders will gnaw on in the team bus on their way back to the hotel after a stage finish.

“Breakfast is always three hours before departure; it’s always solid. Usually a pretty simple porridge, water, salt and brown sugar,” Kim said. “I have a few guys who don’t want nuts and dried fruit. Then they’ll be a muesli that I produce the day before. I freshen it up with fresh yogurt and fresh fruit.

“Then I make a fresh smoothie, two types of bread that I bake, eggs, rice, pasta and cold cuts too. They may take some beetroot juice two and a half hours before a race. It has a lot of nitrates to help keep the water in their bodies.

“After the race I’ll prepare maybe a little sandwich with white bread, I’ll also provide pasta, rice potatoes — they’ll cook it in the microwave on the team bus.

“Then there’s the evening meal after two hours of rest and a massage. They’ll have rice, pasta and salads as a starter with a big portion of fish and the main course is usually white meat. Desert depends on the stage — same with the main course at times. If it’s raining and been a sprint finish I may do a stew or something — it’s a lot about comfort.

“I ask the guys in the morning if there’s something they want to dream of while in the saddle all day. And then we make a deal.”

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A pro rider competing in the Tour de France need to take in between 6,500-8,000 calories (27,000 to 33,000 kilojoukes) a day. As Kim points out, that’s the equivalent of 90 bananas or 200 carrots. Cramming this in can’t be easy, though when rest days roll around it might be a bit easier.

“I try to be nice to them also. It’s a rest day today. Yesterday they had burgers, the full option, guacamole, cheese bacon, mayo, full gas. We do that the day before the rest day so they have time to get it out of their system.

“If the guys win it’s so easy to trick them with healthy food. I can make a chocolate cake that is full of healthy stuff. I start with 85% chocolate, instead of butter I use olive oil, instead of sugar I use honey and then a lot of dried nuts and fruit and a lot of eggs.

“In the end they think they are cheating but they’re not. If I can make them a desert in the evening that will keep them out of the Nutella then I have won”.

If you fancy emulating the pros not just in the way they ride but in the food that they eat then why not try baking one of the dishes that helps fuel the Trek team throughout a Grand Tour. Kim’s kindly handed over one of his team favourite recipes, his famed carrot cake.

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Ingredients

– 8 eggs
– 100 grams honey
– 100 grams olive oil
– 1 tablespoon cinnamon
– 1 vanilla pod
– 1 tablespoon cardamom
– 100 grams flour
– 1 tablespoon baking powder
– 200ml 0% fat natural yogurt

Whisk the above together and fold in.

– 200 grams grated carrot
– 150-200 grams mixed dried fruit
– 150-200 grams mixed nuts

Mix all the ingredients together, put it in a baking tray approximately 5cm deep and bake for 30-35 minutes at 170 degrees celsius.

Leave to cool and then enjoy.

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