Faster Chef - Henrik Orre On Feeding Team Sky


01 May 2017

Preparing food for professional cyclists is no small task. Whether on tour competing or working hard at a training camp, riders’ bodies can demand as much as 8,000cal per day. Henrik Orre, chef to Team Sky, has been ensuring the team get the sustenance they need to be at their peak since 2013.

At the Rapha Cycling Club Summit Côte d’Azur, which takes place between 12-15 May, Henrik will prepare a pro team-inspired dinner for all members on the trip. Ahead of the long weekend in Provence, we sat down with Henrik at Rapha London to discuss his relationship with cycling, and what it’s like to feed one of the highest profile teams in the professional peloton.

RCC Summit Côte d'Azur

Your recent book, Vélochef, contains recipes specifically for cyclists. Where does your interest in the sport come from?

My father was an Olympian, with lots of international cycling victories. He also ran the local cycling club in Tönsberg, Norway. My brother too was a dedicated cyclist who raced nationally. Weekends were dominated with the sport growing up, so it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. We could never go on holiday in July because it clashed with the big races, and if we were, we’d be inside between three and five watching the Tour.

And what about cooking?

I fell in love with cooking – that was my passion. I trained in France, and have worked in some of the finest restaurants in Europe. Combining cooking with cycling was purely a lucky turn. After a few years as head chef for Matsalen, a two star Michelin restaurant in Stockholm, I wanted to do something different. I got talking to the directeur sportif for the Norwegian Cycling Federation, and he asked me if I would cook for the team after the riders complained about their hotel food during the world championships. I cooked for them the following year, and it really worked. And because it was the first time the team used a chef, Norwegian television filmed a short interview. The next day the station came back and asked if I’d do something else with them, which lead to the programme we made following the Tour – cooking dishes from the different regions the race passed through, from a little van.

This must have brought you close to the teams competing in the race.

We made the programme for two years, preparing food as the race progressed. Using a small generator, one or two plates, we’d set up anywhere. Once I even cooked tartiflette on top of a mountain. During that time Team Sky was pretty dominant, both in 2012 and 2013, and I became good friends with Edvald Boasson Hagen [Team Sky, 2010-2014]. He asked if I could spend a few days with them at a training camp to see how they do things, and it turned out that they needed some help filling a few holes in the calendar during that season. The relationship has grown from there.

Cooking for cyclists must be quite different to preparing meals for guests at a Michelin starred restaurant.

I use my experience from high quality restaurants to build excitement for the riders. They have to consume so many calories when they race and train, that eating can become a very boring exercise. I want them to look forward to coming to eat – for it to be something more than an activity they simply have to do. The same way I would prepare an exciting taster menu for a restaurant, I try to be creative within the limitations of the produce available and the types of food the riders can eat.

Feeding nine riders during a Grand Tour can’t be easy. What does a typical day look like for you on Tour?

I work 14-15 hours per day. We prepare breakfast for the guys at 7, and they’ll stay for maybe an hour. Once they’ve eaten we pack up the truck and then go shopping for the evening meal whilst they are racing. We don’t have fridge space to store food for the duration of the Tour, so we have to source meat and fish almost every day. We’ll then drive to the next hotel, and begin preparing dinner. Rest days are even harder because we have to prepare lunch - normally the guys are on the bike.

You prepare food for the riders whilst they’re on the bike, too.

They load up their pockets before they go out. Usually with rice cakes, brownies, a piece of banana bread [featured in the book], and panini filled with ham and cheese. A selection of these will be in their musettes, too. The guys have a large menu on the bike. It also changes regularly, with many requests.

Does it ever scare you, fueling Team Sky’s races?

I don’t think about it that way, I just want to make them happy. Obviously my worst nightmare would be something like food poisoning, which could potentially wipe out the whole team. But that won’t happen. You can’t take risks. It’s a big responsibility, but I see it as nine hungry bike riders coming for dinner every day. I felt more pressure being in charge of a two star Michelin restaurant where customers come and pay £300-400 for a meal.

Henrik’s new book, Vélochef in Europe, contains a chapter dedicated to Nice, and is available on now.

Buy Vélochef

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