Having people over for dinner can be a bit stressful; a good host has to cater to special dietary restrictions, different tastes and these days, of course, be mindful of their budget. Well, imagine having up to 10,000 mouths to feed each day - that's the task organizers of the 2010 Olympics have at hand in just a few short months.
Nejat Sarp is the vice president of services and villages, and general manager of the Vancouver Athletes' Village. Essentially, Sarp's job is to make each of the athletes' villages fully functional - ordering and ensuring the appropriate furniture and fixtures are installed, implementing the overlay and temporary structures on both sites, and ensuring that all of the planning is executed properly. But, in my opinion, one of the best parts of his job has got to be the development of the menu for athletes, coaches and teams that will be chowing down during the Games.
While they've recruited some big names in the Canadian culinary world, like Chef Michael Smith, to help develop a tantalizing menu, Sarp stresses that it's actually been a team effort, with many talented people contributing to the process.
"It doesn't happen by any stretch of the imagination with an individual - it happens with a team, and I'm very, very fortunate that I've got a great team that keeps me on my toes, that's for sure."
As Sarp explains things, McDonald's - the official restaurant of the Olympics - has decided to relinquish its right to be master caterers for the 2010 Olympics, focusing instead on the core delivery at each of the villages and the media centre in Vancouver.
"Their menu is not only geared towards their typical delivery, but it's also geared towards meeting a lot of the requirements that the athletes needs," Sarp explained.
VANOC then hired Sodexo, an international food and facilities management company, to deliver whatever isn't fulfilled by McDonald's at their end.
"It's almost like a three-way party, but mostly focused between ourselves and McDonald's with the support of Sodexo as the master caterer."
"...In past Games, usually food and beverage was under one umbrella," Sarp said.
But this time around, organizers have decided to do things a bit differently, splitting the food and beverage component into two: one based in the competition venues, which will include the spectators, and the other focused strictly on delivery in the two villages. Companies such as Whistler Cooks have been contracted to handle the food delivery at competition venues.
The 50,000 square-foot dining tents at each of the athletes' villages will be equipped with a full kitchen and will be open 24 hours a day, seating 900 athletes and officials and 300 workers. In total, almost 500,000 meals will be served during the 2010 Olympics.
The biggest challenge is ensuring that the highest level of food safety is maintained throughout the Games.
"When you have so many countries coming together, what may be a germ for one athlete from one country doesn't necessarily mean it would be the same for another athlete," Sarp said.
Each dining room will use "action stations" - chef-manned cooking counters - to ensure that food is fresh and safe (read: as germ-free as possible, hold the sneeze-bar at the self-serve salad station, please). Sarp also points out that this way, chefs will be able to interact with athletes and coaches, and showcase Canadian ingredients that are being used, which should be aplenty at the 2010 Games. As part of VANOC's commitment to ensuring the Games are sustainable, they've committed to sourcing as many products as possible from within a 100-mile radius.
"The second challenge is that you've got 85 nations of very different culinary needs topped off with disciplines that require very different nutritional delivery."
Whew, suddenly having a few friends over for dinner seems like a dream.
"For example, you're not going to have a 15K cross country skier eating the same kind of diet that a bobsledder would - the bobsledder's looking for that 200 gram steak, the cross country skier is going to be looking for something that's really carbo-driven for endurance," Sarp said.
The solution was developing a diverse, healthy menu, which then underwent a six- to eight-month vetting process. First, it was sent to the IOC for input and approval, then to each national Olympic committee for review and finally revisions, which were just completed at the end of July.
Sarp is one of the lucky people that will taste-test each of the dishes, evaluating them based on taste, look and feel. Once each dish has been tested and tweaked, they're photographed so they can be easily replicated by each of the chefs at the athletes' villages. It looks like 2010 athletes from around the world will be fuelling up for competition on items like B.C. salmon, east coast seafood and beef from Central Canada.