Kim Rokkjaer runs against the tide when it comes to the question of hotel kitchen versus catering wagon. There are no envious glances from the Trek chef if the Tinkoff-Saxo team happen to be billeted in the same hotel and Hannah Grant’s massive wagon rolls into the car park.
“I prefer to work in the hotel kitchen, even though it’s a disaster sometimes, because I am good at languages and I also think, and Hannah knows my point of view, that it is more professional to be in the kitchen, because I am close to my riders all of the time. If the doctor comes and accuses me that this guy has put on a kilo or whatever, then I can reply: ‘Yeah, yeah, then maybe he shouldn’t eat four croissants every morning with Nutella!’
“They don’t mess with my table. If they want water, then they put it on the table, because then I know it is freshly opened and not from the tap. If they want butter, I check the dates and everything.
“I can do nice plates being in the hotel kitchen right next to the riders’ table, at least for the starter, as soon as they arrive – okay, it’s not Noma in Denmark, but it’s good stuff, it’s healthy stuff; fresh, and presented in a way that is good for the eyes. And for dessert also. So they go to bed with the memory of some good-looking food. And that is the difference from a hotel buffet.”
A time-saving tip from Kim is using Carrefour supermarkets, whatever country he may be in, as the layout is universal, while provenance of produce has never been more important. “It may not be the very best quality, but I save all the labels, so if something happens, I have clean hands.”
We are sitting in the café of a perfectly respectable hotel on the outskirts of Jerez. All is tranquillo front of house. It’s neat, tidy, clean. So is the kitchen, Kim is happy to report – not always the case.
“My biggest goal is clean kitchens. This one is pretty good. There was one place, two years ago: 35 people working in the kitchen, six teams, and it was old and shit, they didn’t wash their uniforms for weeks at a time, yelling, drinking. When I arrived, there was entrecôte sitting on the table – it was 45 degrees in there – next to a sack of dirty unpeeled potatoes. That was the staff dinner. I went directly to the doctor and told him the staff don’t eat here tonight: it’s too dangerous.
“I used three or four litres of alcohol, vodka, whatever I could get, to clean all my stuff. I had a lot of painkillers that day, because the environment was a little alcoholic, to be honest!
“So it’s the same for us as the riders: it’s uphill, downhill; one good day, one not so good. But I still prefer to be in the kitchen. Last year in the Vuelta, there were two times I couldn’t use the kitchens because of politics. And if I can’t, I go to the truck and I have a simple set-up there. The important thing is that I cook some decent pasta, al dente, because the hotel will cook it for one hour, then put it in water overnight, then heat it in a steamer oven for half an hour, then they put it in these shit warmers for two hours.
“My goal is to not make anyone sick. And that has never happened. And I have never been late to the table in the four years I have been doing this. Those are my two most important goals.”
As with all the other chefs, meal planning needs to change according to the kind of day Trek’s riders have had. “Sometimes they just need some comfort food. The most important thing is that riders eat healthy when they are home, then in the race they eat to fill up. The doctor on our team agrees with this: sometimes they need chocolate and big steaks.
“After two weeks, they need lasagne and bolognese. That is my goal: to start healthy, then make more and more comfort food as the race goes on.
“I don’t put sugar, cream or butter in my cooking. If they want it, it is up to them. I provide them with the good stuff and they can take it from there.
“We have a tradition, at least the Danish chefs do: the day before a rest day, they will have hamburgers – big, nasty burgers: bacon, cheese, French fries, whatever. Full gas! They can burn it off, no problem.”
Kim does around 120 days per year on the road with Trek. Besides his chef work, he is a waiter, sommelier and barista, “helping other restaurants and cafes, training staff in wine tasting, how to make a decent coffee.” And a volunteer fireman, just to top it off.
What was the daily budget, I wondered? Was it like in a restaurant, where there is a certain spend per plate? “I think in the Tour this year, the average spend per day, per rider, was €15, including some stuff for the lunch musettes. Nobody complained, not even the financial manager or the riders, so that must be a good balance. And that is on top of what I get from the hotels, because the organisation has already paid for the riders, €30 or something, but I don’t want to use the fish or meat from the kitchen, because I need to be sure.”
Kim strikes me as a guy who is sure of many things. He has that air about him. What about the inexorable rise of the Danish chef? Will it continue unabated? They seem to be doing better than the country’s riders.
“There were more Danish chefs in last year’s Tour de France than Danish riders – five to three!”
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