If an army marches on its stomach, then the peloton rides on theirs. Getting the right food, at the right time, is one of most important things to a rider, so a team really relies on their chef to make sure they’re fuelled up every day. Hannah Grant has been the chef for Team Saxo-Tinkoff since 2011 and has just brought out The Grand Tour Cookbook, filled with her delicious and nutritious recipes. She’s a busy lady – not only has she been doing a lot of publicity for the book launch in Denmark, but she’s also getting ready to go on her third Tour de France, so we feel quite honoured that she would take time out of her busy schedule to talk to us. (All food photography ©Hannah Grant.)
Kitty: First of all, thanks for talking to us. Let’s start at the beginning – how did you get involved with Team Saxo-Tinkoff?
Hannah: A colleague of mine at the restaurant NOMA told me that the cycling team was looking to hire a new chef, as he knew I was looking for a job that fit better with my studies. Wow, I thought, that sounds pretty cool yet very strange. I had a year’s education in human nutrition, so I had the basics covered for a job like that and I thought what I didn’t know I could learn. I was in the running for the job with three guys and they chose me! The reason was to create a different atmosphere around the team when on the road – and of course also because I was not half bad at cooking! 😉
Kitty: Have you always been interested in cycling?
Hannah: It’s funny. Before I took this job, I knew nothing about cycling other than the name and look of my boss, Bjarne Riis, who I knew had won the Tour in 1996. So for me, this has been a big change, going from nerding around in restaurants to suddenly being in the centre of the greatest sport ever. I started learning all about it, talking to the riders, the directeur sportifs, mechanics, everyone, asking how everything worked. I would make an effort to go to a race and sit in a team car with a DS for a whole stage to get the feel of what it was like to be in a race. So now I’m about to work my third Tour de France and although I’m no expert on cycling, I do know names, mountains, history and strategies. It’s fun and I love it more and more every day.
Kitty: Do you have a favourite race?
Hannah: From my point of view, all three grand tours are the best. I like having the kitchen running for a month and getting to know everyone around me. I get to know the riders better – it’s great. The grand tours are the races where everyone shows their true self.
Kitty: Take us through a day in your life during a big stage race.
Hannah: 6:00: I get up to bake the bread and cook up the breakfast for the team.
8:00: While the riders are eating, we pack down the truck, like a ship, so it’s ready to drive to the next hotel.
9:00 As soon as the riders finish eating, I pack down all the dry stuff (cereals, etc) in a box, I have my own standing breakfast, then get in a team car and drive on.
12:00 Approximately 300km later, I arrive at the hotel. I’m usually starving so I have lunch right away and take a small break until 13:30, when it’s time to either shop or start cooking again. Every four days, we go shopping BIG – that can take up to three hours, depending on how far we have to go. We fill up the fridges so we know we are good for a few days. Sometimes during the stages you can’t get what you want, so it’s good to come prepared.
16:00 We start cooking! The menu is set and we work away.
18:00 The riders return from the stage in the bus. We now have about two hours until dinner has to be on the table.
19:45 My apprentice chef, Jonathan, and I take the food to the hotel restaurant and set up the rider’s buffet.
20:00 We greet the riders, talk to them about the food and just let them sit and relax as they dig into dinner.
20:15 Time to clean down the truck. Everything is washed and scrubbed, so the truck is shiny and ready for the next day.
21:00 We wrap up the leftovers and make after-race food boxes for the riders for the next day.
21:30 Jonathan and I sit down to eat our own dinner.
22:30 Blogging time … if I’m not too tired!
Kitty: Are you on the road with the team for the entire Tour de France this year or do you rotate with other chefs? How big is the catering team?
Hannah: Yes I am on the road for almost a whole month for the Tour de France. There is only me and Jonathan in the catering team!
Kitty: What are some of the challenges of cooking for elite athletes? How do you make sure you’re giving the guys everything they need nutritionally with the food you serve them?
Hannah: Well, first of all, we have so many nationalities and that can make it hard to keep everyone happy. Second of all, we have a lot of different diets so it’s important to make sure everyone’s needs are filled – gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, et cetera. I vary everything I do and there is always an option for everyone to get plenty of vegetables, enough protein, the right fats and, of course, enough of the right carbs.
Kitty: I’ve heard that most of the food you prepare for the team is gluten-free. Why is that?
Hannah: Most people have a small intolerance to gluten. It doesn’t make you sick but your system constantly works to fight the small symptoms. That means that your body is already using up a bit of energy on that instead on focusing everything on recovery. Obviously recovery is the most important thing for the riders after a race. If you suffer from pollen allergies, going gluten-free can reduce your symptoms drastically. Plus it’s easier to keep your weight down if you go gluten-free.
Kitty: Do you prepare a special meal for a rider on his birthday?
Hannah: We always make birthday cake and sing for them, we make up the table with decorations and make them feel at home. If it’s possible we cook their favourite dish.
Kitty: Let’s talk about your new cookbook, The Grand Tour Cookbook. How long has it been in the planning?
Hannah: Well we have talked about a cookbook since I started at the team, but the true plan was born about a year ago. The book is meant for everyone who wants to optimise their health and performance, so whether you are a rider, runner, triathlete or just love tasty, healthy food, this book is for you! It’s written with different types of diets in mind – from low carb, paleo style to nut, dairy and gluten intolerances. It’s easy to combine the recipes to create the perfect diet for you.
Kitty: I think it’s a fantastic idea for a cookbook – and it’s so beautifully designed. The pictures themselves look good enough to eat. You must be thrilled with it!
Hannah: It makes me very happy that you love the pictures, it’s a great hobby of mine and I did all the photography myself. It’s great to work on every detail of this book – it’s a very personal thing for me so I hope people like it.
This is the first cookbook that my publisher Mia Rudolf has made at Kuboaa and I’m truly grateful to her for taking a chance on me and the book. The graphic design agency, Johannes Torpe, has also done a great job of making a beautiful, classic-looking book. So far, the book is only available in Danish but there’s an English version on the way.
Kitty: Any idea when that might be available? I’ll be one of the first to get it!
Hannah: We are currently working on getting the English version out – stay tuned on dailystews.com for info and teaser recipes in English during this year’s Tour!
Kitty: So how can we get a copy?
Hannah: It’s for sale on the Saxo-Tinkoff webshop, or you can buy it in all Danish bookstores. Also keep an eye on dailystews.com for details of where you can buy the English version when it comes out.
Well, how hungry are you now, dear reader? Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter page for links to Hannah’s recipes – and if you try any of them, make sure you send us a picture and taste notes on Facebook!