It’s been a long, hard day at work. You are putting off opening the fridge to see what lurks in the vegetable compartment that can possibly be fashioned into something tasty and nutritious. You already know the answer, so delay the inevitable by spending five minutes on Twitter seeing what the rest of the cycling world is up to.
And then it starts. Team Sky’s chef is posting photos of halibut in a walnut, apple, peaches and fennel salsa. And a beautifully green pea and asparagus flan with goats’ cheese atop cabbage and red peppers. Hannah from Tinkoff-Saxo has put together an array of sumptuous sushi rolls that look amazing. Sean at Garmin has marinated quail with garlic, thyme and smoked paprika, to serve alongside curried vegetables and rice. It is all mouth-wateringly wonderful. You open the fridge door, quickly re-close it and admit defeat. Perusing takeaway menus over a glass of wine is the only sensible option.
Søren Kristiansen is unsure which of the team chefs started this nightly torture for the time-pressed cookery voyeurs amongst us. “But people like to see what is going on behind the closed door. Sometimes you get a lot of positive comments, and sometimes you get something that you just laugh about,” he says.
It’s hard to imagine any negative comments, but that’s Twitter for you. Søren is a super-relaxed, super-friendly guy, but then we are talking outside the kitchen doors over a strong coffee, rather than in his natural habitat. “Dave [Brailsford] says I am a little bit Jekyll and Hyde, but that is quite common with chefs. When I put on my uniform, I change. But people tell me I am more relaxed than five years ago.”
Following five years working for Bjarne Riis’s various teams, Søren joined Sky at its inception in 2010, so it looks like the British team have more of the Jekyll than the Hyde. Bearing in mind the big knives these guys carry around, that’s no bad thing.
Søren Kristiansen, more Jekyl than Hyde
They’re a pretty tight-knit group, the team chefs, with the longest-serving of them all as their unofficial head. “Hannah [from Tinkoff-Saxo] calls me ‘Papa Smurf’,” says Søren, perfectly happy with the affectionate sobriquet. “We are a little bit isolated within the teams. The mechanics are a group of four or five, the carers, same again, but we are alone in the kitchen. So this is our family. We help each other out. We stay together.
“I have been around the longest, so the other guys can ask my advice. We have a group on WhatsApp to share information, where the good supermarkets are, the best markets.”
Of all the teams to have their own mobile kitchen, Sky would be at the top of the list, you’d think: an almighty, shiny black culinary equivalent of the Death Star battle bus; fully loaded with top of the range equipment.
Not so: Søren relies on helpful hotels and contacts them well in advance to smooth over any potential misunderstandings, calling in one of the team’s Spanish carers to translate if the going gets tricky on the Vuelta. “Some hotels, I have been to for seven years now and when I tell them I am coming, they are very welcoming and say: ‘Chef, my home is your home’.
“But I have to sell myself every time I go into a new kitchen. We rely on their help. My biggest challenge, if there is a kitchen chef who is not so happy, is to stay polite: chit-chatting, giving him souvenirs, bidons, caps, then most of the time they can be convinced it will work.
“Then sometimes you can have eight teams staying in one hotel, then it becomes a logistical nightmare, but then again, if most of those teams have their own mobile kitchens, then I am more or less still alone in the kitchen. And it is nice to have the close contact with the riders.”
Pro riders are poked, prodded, monitored, checked and re-checked more than any human being might think is reasonable or necessary. There is sound science behind it, and the longer the race, the more important the monitoring becomes. The chefs have a part to play.
“Every day the doctor is asking me how the riders are: did they eat well, stay hydrated? They are checked on the scales every day, not for the sake of checking, but because on a day like today, five hours in very hot weather, they can end up a kilo and a half lighter at the finish if they have not had enough liquid. It is unbelievably important.”
Chris Froome at racing weight
Team Sky has the potentially sticky issue of food provenance worked out, as you would expect. “We have started working together with Laverstoke Farm, an organic producer, run by former Formula One champion Jody Scheckter, to supply meat. Now we have the cooler van, so when it is sealed in the UK, each pack has a USB thermometer inside it to control the temperature. It is spot on. It costs quite a lot of money to send out but it is worth it. Their buffalo meat tastes exactly like good meat should.”
The nine men of Sky are busy tucking away their breakfast on the opposite side of the dining room. It would be very uncool to interrupt, so we leave them to it. Conversation seems minimal: they’re focused on getting a morning’s energy on board. Søren will sit with them for the evening meal. “After a bad day in the race, you keep to small talk and chit-chat around the table. But when the sun is shining and the legs are spinning, we can do it with a smile on our face.”
And special treats for those days when the guys need a lift? Geraint Thomas is always banging on about Welsh Cakes. Has the Dane cracked and cooked a batch? “No, he has asked me about it, but I have not done it yet. At a Grand Tour, I have nine boys and all nine are exactly the same to me. We are here to take care of the riders, to please them, but not spoil them.”
Søren has cooking to do and we have a stage to photograph. “We are up first in the morning and the last to sit down to eat at night,” he says. “There may be some time to relax in the afternoon, but there are lots of things to do: juices, special cakes – that is also my job.”
We have already eaten into his limited downtime. We head off to San Fernando, still hungry.
Extract from issue 50