Feeding Team Dimension Data
24 August 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : Old Mutual Live Wine Edition, exclusive to Old Mutual Live, on mobile, on digital, on demand. If you watched this year’s Tour de France – and who didn’t – if you watched Team Dimension Data and how brilliantly the team did, I’ll be it didn’t cross your mind what the team was eating, or drinking. But Lindsay Venn, Food and Beverage Manager of the Cullinan knows all about it. He’s the guy who cooked for the team, the only chef in South Africa who was selected. Who ordered the drinks, who kept them all healthy and hydrated and happy and he joins us on the line. Lindsay, thank you so much for joining us.
Lindsay Venn: Sure.
JCW: I guess you didn’t have to do a riding test at all to get the job?
LV: No, we have a very good relationship with Dimension Data and we actually helped them out with the team last year in December when they were down in Cape Town. So we have a sort of long relationship with Team Dimension Data already. So it was an easy transition when I got in France and I met a couple of directors and riders because we had previously met a year ago.
JCW: So, what exactly was your brief? Judging from the newspaper reports that I was reading and chatting to your PR, it was actually to supply the food and drink to the entire team. I think that must have been a huge job.
How do you get supplies?
LV: Definitely a huge job and the brief was just good, wholesome, fresh food. Sat with a nutritionist and the doctors, of course, and looked at the menus that the Tour de France had put out. The Tour de France does put menus out for the riders and we have to follow those menus. But at times we will change dishes because it’s not cast in stone.
JCW: How does it work because some of the places that the guys go through are very tiny villages, where do you source the food or does the Tour de France actually do that. Then you take so many pumpkins and so many potatoes per day or something like that?
LV: In some villages there were challenges and we had to adapt our dishes accordingly. The Tour de France does give each hotel a budget to work with according to the menu that has been sent out. However, when I do arrive at the various hotels that we do rest at, is that I have to check the quality of the produce and make sure it’s up to standard.
If it’s not up to standard, I will then go to the local supermarket and rather go and procure better produce and make sure that the guys are looked after. That they’re getting the wholesome, fresh meals that they require. It can be a bit challenging at times because you are in remote areas in France. If you’re not at, how can I say, if you are not fluent in the local lingo, it can be a challenge.
A day in the life of a TDF Chef
JCW: Do you cook in advance? I’m thinking of them eating en route, sometimes when they’re actually on their bicycles. You can see them being topped up with food. Take us through what you would have to do every single day and what you did have to do for Team Dimension Data.
LV: Your morning would start at about 5:30, I’d get into the kitchen about 6:00 and then I would start preparing oats. Because generally like normal oats that I would have my secret little ingredients, as discussed with the riders beforehand. What their preferences were for the oats and how they liked their oats.
They would also then request omelettes every morning, lots of bread and here and there smoothies in between, depending on what area of the race or what part or what stretch of the race they would be racing. The diet does change as it moves along, there’s a lot of rice also consumed.
Lunch time would be easily, how can I say, a post-match meal would be 200g of protein and you would have to cook quite a lot of rice for them. The rice that they consume on the bike is mainly sushi rice, so the sushi rice is cooked the day before the time. It’s pre-packed and we cut it out into little blocks and then we repack them into little foil containers and it’s easy for the riders to have while they’re on the bikes.
JCW: Do they have it with any flavouring or is it just rice because they just need that carbohydrate?
LV: No, at the end of the day I just started to play around with flavours and we used to make lemongrass flavour or a little citrus flavour with it, a little cinnamon flavour. Cinnamon flavour as also highly recommended on the Tour in porridge and cereal that we gave them for breakfast.
So, yes, cinnamon was definitely a big plus and the guys thoroughly enjoyed it. The other things were small little apples or anything like that, they would consume on the bus. So not a lot of fruit consumed at the hotel, a lot of fruit consumed on the bus to the race or post-race.
JCW: When they finally finish the day, they would have had a smoothie probably while they were riding, some of the sushi rice, maybe an apple which they were eating in stages that weren’t too stretching. But those mountain stages, I have never seen anything like what the teams were having to climb this year, it was brutal stuff. How do you prepare them for the next day’s racing because they’ve got to come in, they’re fairly whacked, but the adrenalin, I guess, is probably going. So what would you feed them at night?
LV: It’s funny, a lot of people wouldn’t believe it, when I say the guys ate a lot of white Basmati rice, but you’ve got to understand that they are burning their carbs at a much higher rate than we would normally burn those similar carbs. Even white bread, they ate lots.
JCW: That obviously surprised you?
LV: That was just, at night when they came for dinner, they just had lots of white rolls, white Basmati rice. So at each sitting a cyclist would consume with dinner about 600g of cooked white Basmati rice, besides the protein they’d have. So it’s a lot of rice that they do take in, it sounds unbelievable, but I’ve witnessed it and I’ve seen them. Lots of Parmesan cheese also at dinner and olive oil.
JCW: The protein, cause you’re in an area where the food is lovely, but it’s hearty?
LV: Protein like I said, if there was skin on chicken, I would remove it, always trim off excess fat from whatever lamb or beef that I was using. But it was always high protein, always chicken, the day before rest day. If it was a rest day tomorrow, tonight we would serve about 300g steak for the guys and of course lots of pasta and rice. Sweet potatoes was a big plus, they love sweet potato, so that’s also a big factor and if you’ve got nice, ripe avo’s, that’s also a big plus.
Something for the sweet tooth?
JCW: Lindsay, you haven’t once mentioned dessert because sometimes people crave dessert, even if it’s just a piece of chocolate. Did that come into it at all or was it just forbidden?
LV: My experience working with the Springboks and other sporting teams, I had to do dessert and I could introduce dessert. On the first couple of nights we just debated on certain things, whether it was going to be a banana bread or whether it was going to be pancakes.
We started off with some pancakes and then some banana loaves. Then we stretched it further and the guys started to go into ice cream and pistachio ice cream was the flavour of the Tour for the guys. These guys burn the calories so quickly, so it’s nothing for them. We give them a little treat and the treat afterwards just became ice cream.
JCW: Lindsay, how does it actually work, do they eat in a dining room with the other teams or do you have your own specific team space?
LV: At some venues it was large enough, we would have them separate from the rest of the teams. But unfortunately in other areas we had to dine together with our whole Dimension Data team and share it with other teams also. That was at times a challenge.
JCW: Was it a challenge in the kitchen or a challenge in the dining room?
LV: Challenge in both areas because some kitchens were very small. Like Spain we were about four teams in a kitchen and that means four teams in the kitchen versus the four teams that are outside that are eating in a small dining room area. It was a challenge, definitely a challenge in the kitchen and outside.
JCW: It sounds technical, but also really difficult to get everything prepared for them. But I guess that was a challenge that was faced by all the other teams as well.
LV: Yes, big challenge, some of the teams were blessed to have two or three chefs whereas Dimension Data only had me. I had to set up tables, cook the food and serve the food at the same time. It was a bit challenging for me, but like I said, in my pre-Tour de France interviews, that we’re from Africa, we’re tough and we can handle that.
Especially if you do it yourself, you know exactly how everything is instead of relying on somebody. When you get to the dining room it’s not the way you want it to be. So yes, that was a big plus for me, so we pulled through and we managed and the team did very well.
What does the Manx Missile favour?
JCW: The team did absolutely brilliant and Mark Cavendish, did he have any particular requests? Given that burst of energy that he showed at the end, it was just astonishing?
LV: Mark Cavendish is not a difficult guy, he’s a great guy and he’s a great athlete. He would always be first in the dining room in the morning and we had a great relationship early on in the race already, that I knew his mealtimes and what his requirements were. He stuck to it, he stuck to every morning.
His oats in the morning, he had a ham and cheese omelette, he’d have his coffee. Then he’d have maybe one or two rice cakes with peanut butter on or whatever. Then he would have his coffee and have a little chat. Then he’d be on his way.
His dinner was also very, the boys wanted a little bit of flavour here and there and you can’t go too much spice, you’ve got to keep the spices, medium should I say. I had to watch the flavourings of the food also, but also keep it a bit exciting for them. Because you can’t just do similar types of dishes every single night. The guys are also human beings, so you need to throw a little bit of a twist in here and there just to keep them excited also.
I sort of hit it right with the guys on that because the Team Director would always tell me that the one thing the guys always looked forward to now when they get onto the bus is what’s for dinner tonight. I sort of got that balance quite good and I had a lot of conversations with the riders, you know, the week before the Tour, I had a lot of conversations with them. When I met Mark I had conversations with him.
So yes, I think after the third and fourth day, we were all on the same page. We were getting the flavours right for the guys, we were keeping them excited. They really looked forward to mealtimes and I think that’s what you want. You don’t want people to go into a dining room and they’re like, arghh, it’s chicken again tonight. So the guys were always like, oh, what are you making us tonight or what’s on the menu tonight?
So that’s a good thing, it keeps a good team spirit, good team morale. I would also drill them a little bit in the morning, please bring me home a prize, bring me a gift or something. So yes, a good team camaraderie and you’ve got to play your role also. You’re not just a chef, you’re part of the team and you’re part of the motivation. So, yes, you’ve got to think outside the box at times.
No alcohol during the race!
JCW: Tell me, France is famous for its wine, no alcohol at all, ever? Just take me through that.
LV: No alcohol at all, only the last night in Paris we had some champagne, of course when we won a stage, I showed them and I showed Mark how to taste champagne. We would have a little glass of champagne as a victory toast. That was also well received by the whole team. The whole team would have a glass of champagne, not just the riders and me, it was everybody involved.
JCW: The last night in Paris, what bottle did you crack, which champagne did you drink?
LV: It was a selection of champagne. Our farewell party was on a river, we had booked a boat trip for us and it was just canapés and a selection of French wines and then just champagne. It was well received by the whole team because on that night everybody is so tired and all you want is to kick your legs up and relax.
JCW: I’m sure.
LV: It was well received, we all enjoyed it. The next day everybody had to be flying all over the world, going back to their destinations, their families. So yes, it was a good night the last night, I would say.
JCW: If you had to supply the team with a bottle of South African wine or a couple of bottles of South African wine, what would you tend to choose? Would it be a red or a white or would it just not cross your mind?
LV: A Chardonnay.
JCW: Why a Chardonnay?
LV: I’d give them a Chardonnay, on the Tour de France it’s so hot and of course if you have a nice, chilled Chardonnay, I would give them that.
JCW: My next question would be, what Chardonnay would you choose because there’s some really good ones in South Africa.
LV: I knew this question was going to come! I like Waterford Chardonnay, so I’d probably give them Waterford Chardonnay.
JCW: Okay, so Waterford Chardonnay and if there was somebody saying: No, no, I just want a little red drink, what would you give them?
LV: Meerlust Rubicon on the table.
JCW: How often do you drink Meerlust Rubicon and do you get a discount at the Cullinan?
LV: I, occasionally, but when I do, I’ll always have a good glass, like I said, of Chardonnay or a good Rubicon or something like that, I’d then want to spoil myself. I’m not just going to take a glass of wine for willy nilly, you know what I mean?
JCW: I understand exactly what you’re saying and you’re surrounded by the stuff in your day-to-day life in any event.
JCW: Listen, a lovely discussion and I think it must have been an incredible experience for you. Do you think you’re going to do the same thing again next year?
LV: Yes, definitely, we’re looking at doing it again next year. I might be taking one or two guys with me, it’s still in discussion, backroom discussion at the moment.
JCW: Lindsay, lovely conversation, I’m looking forward to the Tour de France 2017 and it sounds to me as if you are as well.
LV: Thank you very much for the interview and I hope to see you soon also.
JCW: Lindsay Venn, thank you so much, thanks for the conversation.
LV: Sure, thank you.
JCW: Bye-bye. Thanks for listening, you can get this and all the previous podcasts on dogreatthings.co.za or sign up for the newsletter on Old Mutual Live Wine edition. On mobile, on digital, on demand.