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What does it take to feed an Olympic athlete?

Posted on 04/04/2012
Carol Vallejo

It won’t just be the Olympic athletes staying at Royal Holloway, University of London who will be feeling the pressure during the 2012 Games. Head Chef Carol Vallejo knows that the food she prepares could make all the difference. Here she explains how she has been preparing for the Olympics.

With more than 30 years service in Royal Holloway’s kitchens, Carol has prepared food for a host of high profile dignitaries and celebrities visiting the College, from the Queen and other royalty, to major politicians, sports figures and pop stars. But it will be catering for the rowing and sprint canoe athletes that will most nerve-wracking.

“For any chef the next meal you cook has to be the most important otherwise you don’t focus on what you are doing and that’s not good,” she explains. “But when I am in my dotage and look back I am sure I will think the meals for the athletes were the most important. Realising their dreams is what their lives are about and the food they eat is what gives them the power to row. Over the years we have had many important guests eat at the university and if we had got a meal wrong for them they would have been disappointed but if we get it wrong on race week it could mean the difference between going home a hero or an ‘also ran’. Many athletes only get one chance and we know their food is vital to them.”

Carol has been undergoing special training over the past year with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), which has helped her understand just what an elite athlete needs from their meals and has seen her design dishes that will be used across all of the Olympic Villages.

She explains: “Part of our focus was on the different dietary requirements and food preferences of the athletes and how we could develop recipes and menus to satisfy them.  I was involved in the planning of the menus for the Olympic Villages, and I also helped create and test recipes for these menus. All of these were then sent for approval to LOCOG management. I am delighted some of the recipes I created are still scheduled in the menus for the Games.”     

Carol reveals that LOCOG is working to ensure that the 2012 Games are as sustainable as possible and that the chefs will be doing their bit to be ‘green’.

“British food is to be used unless it is something that could not be produced in the UK such as bananas,” she says.  “I was most surprised to learn how much food was consumed at previous games and the amount of food that will be used in the Olympic Villages in London 2012 - 25,000 loaves of bread, more than 100 tonnes of meat, 19 tonnes of eggs and more than 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables!”

Carol is used to cooking for large numbers of students on campus. In the summer her team regularly caters for 1,500 language students.

 “We provide the language students with three meals a day every summer but a rower in competition will eat more in one meal time than a language student will in two days,” she explains. “With the test event last August the athletes from New Zealand came 15 days before the competition started to get over jet lag and train. I was surprised that they were only eating the same amount of food as our regular students for the first 10 days but then the coach said food becomes fuel tomorrow and watch the volume rocket, which it did.”

Carol is now looking forward to the athletes arriving on campus so that she can put all of her training into practice.

“We had the test event last August and the World Rowing championship a few years ago I know what it will be like however this is the real deal. I have a great team working with me and the wider Campus Services Team are very supportive. It is very exciting to be involved with the 2012 Games. Although I am a little nervous, I am very excited”.


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