Thursday, July 25, 2024

How to eat like an Olympian. Inside the world’s largest restaurant feeding over 15,000 athletes and prioritizing plant-based meals over meat

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Eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt notoriously ate only chicken nuggets during the Beijing games. 

He’s not alone in unconventional dietary choices. Swimmer Michael Phelps consumed a staggering 10,000 calories a day to fuel his races, while Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, prioritizes protein and fiber, opting for fish, vegetables, and rice.

As millions flock to Paris for the eagerly awaited 2024 Summer Olympic Games, France is set to serve 15,000 athletes over the eight-week event, offering everything from sandwiches to buffets and gourmet dining experiences. 

Sodexo Live!, partner of the Paris Olympic Games, has meticulously planned 500 recipes over the last two years focusing on developing menus, creating recipes, and sourcing the best high-quality ingredients from across France. This includes 3 million bananas, 20 tons of coffee, and for the first time ever, over 47,000 reusable plates. 

At the heart of this culinary operation is the Athletes’ Village, which will transform into a 1,200 table, around-the-clock eatery—literally becoming the world’s largest restaurant. Here, Olympians will have the chance to indulge in French delicacies alongside a variety of international cuisines, with an unprecedented 30% of the meals being plant-based, according to Sodexo Live!. 

“Plant-based food is not only great tasting and flavorful, it’s also great for the environment, and we are helping to reduce the carbon footprint by two-fold,” Sodexo Live!’s Chef Jeff Leidy told Fortune. 

With a focus on reducing the carbon footprint and a commitment to sustainability, Paris 2024 hopes to halve the environmental impact through four key actions: reducing animal proteins, limiting food waste, reducing the use of single-use plastic, and prioritizing local and seasonal products. The Games’ food vision emphasizes that adding more plant-based ingredients is the most effective way to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of catering. 

Sodexo Live!’s goal? ”To make this the greenest Olympics ever,” according to Leidy. 

Leidy will serve as one of 25 head chefs in the village, leading a team of 1,000 culinary professionals set to serve approximately 40,000 meals a day.

He gave Fortune an exclusive preview of four delectable dishes—three of which are plant-based—that will be served in the village, each tailored to help athletes fuel up and recover from the Games. 

Cauliflower Alfredo

Henry Sanchez

When it comes time to pasta, the possibilities are endless. But the “caulifredo” is 100% plant-based, made with cashew cream to achieve that smooth and creamy texture traditionally found in alfredo sauce. 

“I personally love this dish just for the flavor. You don’t miss that it doesn’t have real cream or butter,” Leidy says, noting that the tri-colored cauliflower, oven-roasted tomato chili threads, and bucatini pasta are enveloped in a velvety cashew cream sauce, enriched with shallots, garlic, and vegan Parmesan cheese. 

“This dish has great carbohydrate,” Leidy says. “It’s something that adds a lot of calories for the athlete and it’s a great way to prepare for their event.” 

Roast vegetable, summer squash, and farro bowl

Henry Sanchez

“The farro in this dish is an ancient grain, it’s easy to cook, and it has a great nutty flavor.” 

Made with cremini mushroom, micro squash, roasted chickpeas and vegetables, toasted walnuts, pomegranate seeds, and cooked farro, the bowl offers athletes an energizing meal to fuel their competitions. 

“I love how clean this dish eats, especially for an athlete as they’re preparing for their event.” 

The carbs in this dish are important to help athletes boost energy. But, Leidy’s favorite part of this bowl is the pomegranate seeds, which “adds a fresh element to the meal.”

Seared scallop, parsnip puree, and roasted beets 

Henry Sanchez

For a plant-based twist on this dish, Leidy offers swapping out scallops for trumpet mushrooms. 

“Scallops are high in protein, very lean, and high in omega three fatty acids,” Leidy says. 

The dish features seared scallops or mushrooms, asparagus tips, parsnip puree, and roast beets. Leidy sears the scallops or mushrooms for three to five minutes, allowing them to achieve the perfect caramelization, while cooking the asparagus tips on the side. His finishing touches include citrus beurre blanc, chive, and lemon zest. 

Summer citrus salad

Henry Sanchez

While this menu item isn’t completely plant-based, the team decided to serve a citrus salad dish“given that it’s summer, it’s refreshing, and it’s great for a post-event recovery.” 

This vibrant dish includes ruby grapefruit, blood orange, and a medley of basil, accented with sumac, roasted pistachios, pearl mozzarella, and watermelon, all dressed in a zesty citrus vinaigrette. Rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, it offers athletes a rejuvenating boost, while the addition of pearl mozzarella and pistachios ensures a protein-packed punch to fuel their endeavors.

“The citrus adds vitamin C and antioxidant quality which is great for athlete recovery.”

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