Olympic Chef Faces Challenges Of His Own

Allen Tran is the head chef for the United States Alpine, snowboarding and Nordic teams at this year’s Winter Olympic Games. As such, he – along with his team of chefs, including Flower Nowicki, Tanya Alexander and Cherry De Los Santos – is responsible for making sure the nearly 100 athletes and coaching staff receive three square meals a day during their time in Sochi. Preparing food that is healthy, available and familiar is a difficult task from the team’s remote location in the Caucasus Mountains. An article in the New York Times outlines the trials and tribulations of cooking for elite athletes during the Olympic games.

The genesis of the Olympic chef
The existence of an Olympic chef as part of the American envoy to the games is a relatively new phenomenon. The U.S. team realized the need for a dedicated team of chefs after gold medalist skier Julia Mancuso was forced to eat a dinner of granola bars the night before her race during the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Despite winning the gold in her event, team leaders didn’t want to test fate in the future. They decided at those games to institute a team of chefs whose sole responsibility would be keeping the athletes well fed during the weeks of training and competition.

One of the most challenging aspects of cooking during the Olympic games is finding groceries. For example, Tran reported having trouble finding rice noodles during the training period in Sochi because the Korean team had already bought up all the supply in the small town. There were many ingredients that the chefs had to pack with them from the U.S. – including Sriracha and maple syrup – for fear of its unavailability in Russia. One of Tran’s main goals is to prepare food that is familiar to the American athletes and that also supplies all the necessary fuel for a working competitor. This includes lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

The Olympic menu
Tran and his team provide three meals a day as well as snacks – usually almonds, as the team is sponsored by nut company Blue Diamond – to the athletes and support staff. The menu has included many Mexican dishes such as fajitas and quesadillas as well as Asian-inspired dishes like Thai coconut curry over quinoa. Tran also works to accommodate the dietary restrictions of Team U.S.A., which include allergies and gluten-free diets.

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