Feeding the Olympic Athletes

10 August 2008

Interview with

Madeleine Genner and Gary Leahy

Madeleine - in the Beijing Olympic village anticipation is building.  The athletes are preparing to represent their countries and Irish-born Sydney-sider Gary Leahy is gearing up to serve millions of meals.  Gary Leahy is senior executive chef for the Olympic Village.  He arrived in Beijing just over a month ago in preparation for his third Olympics.

Beijing National Aquatics Centre and Beijing National Stadium (background)Gary - The first two weeks were pretty good because obviously there's no athletes here we managed to get in a lot of sight-seeing.  I'm very impressed with Beijing as a city.  Then the athletes have started to come in and we've just been working so hard for the last two weeks.  We're doing about 33,000 meals a day and we peak at 60,000.

Madeleine - The dining hall at the Olympic village I understand can sit some 6,000 people.  I presume the kitchens are pretty large too?

Gary - Yeah.  The kitchen must be the size of a football field, or close to it.  We have the kitchen set up into five sections.  Each section has a menu and they fire the food, basically, then my job is I'm the expediter.  All the food comes through me and I'm the link between the kitchen and the front of house.

Madeleine - And on the menu there are plenty of options.  For breakfast there's scrambled eggs, sautéed zucchini [courgette], chicken with chick peas, octopus with peppers, red miso and conji.  Gary Leahy again:

Gary - You'll see a big Chinese influence here which is very popular.  Chinese food at all the games will actually be the most popular food that we do.  There's stir fries and there's soups.  There's a lot of Chinese, there's a lot of Mediterranean dishes, European-based dishes.  Everybody is served across the board, no matter what sort of taste or background you come from I think we've got it pretty much covered.

Madeleine - I mean, of course you're also dealing with athletes who most of whom would have strict diet regimes.  How do you account for that?

Gary - We probably have about 80 different items on the menu every day or meal period.  We also have Halal stations and we have designated equipment in the kitchen for just pork and designated pork cauldrons.  We're covering every base, really.

Food Science Madeleine - Since the Sydney Olympic games food security has become a much bigger issue.  In Sydney all the food came direct from the suppliers every day but in 2004 in the wake of terrorist attacks like 9/11 security was much tighter.  In Athens all food went to a warehouse first for security checks.  In Beijing the authorities are leaving nothing to chance.

Gary - Food safety is really tight and obviously the Beijing government have people in the kitchen as well.  Temperature checking, checking samples.  We had the Beijing hygiene bureau about two weeks ago and they were walking us or talking us through that.  Even the suppliers the Beijing government had employed to supply us with food.  There's people from the hygiene bureau tracking all the food literally from the farm to fork the food is tracked by hygiene bureau peoples to make sure everything is in top shape.

Madeleine - As the games draws closer and closer what's it like being in the village?  Obviously you've got a huge task ahead of you.  It's a very different task to the athletes but it must be getting pretty exciting?

Gary - Yeah.  The village is a buzz.  A lot of athletes are walking around, strolling down the streets and laughing.  It's really quite amusing, you know?  The buzz in the village is just fantastic.  The athletes are hanging their flags out of their apartments and, you know, it's really good.

Beijing Olympic Stadium

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