Culinary artists will feed hungry athletes at Games

Canada Winter Games athletes need one thing besides training and coaching: fuel to keep going. And where will they fill up? Well, Yukon…

Canada Winter Games athletes need one thing besides training and coaching: fuel to keep going.

And where will they fill up?

Well, Yukon Colleges’ cafeteria is being transformed to feed up to 1,800 athletes in one sitting and 6,000 individual meals per day.

The Canada Games Host Society is importing 60 culinary arts students from colleges and universities throughout British Columbia. They will work alongside eight Yukon College students.

All will work behind the scenes to keep athletes fed.

“I think seeing an operation of this size — not all culinary arts students working for organizations will ever be able to experience such an event — it’s not only an opportunity to meet your practicum requirements, it’s also, for some of them, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be involved in such a extensive operation and see how that operation works,” said Stu Mackay, dean of professional studies at Yukon College and venue team leader for the Games.

Unlike previous Winter Games, the students will be preparing each meal from scratch and the food will be fresh.

Normally food is brought in big batches from a large catering company and re-heated for the event.

This re-heated food isn’t bad, but Whitehorse will distinguish itself through fresh, wholesome foods, said Mackay.

“Our goal is to make the culinary part of the Games the best ever, we hope the athletes, coaches and managers walk away saying, ‘Boy we’ve never been fed this well,’” said Mackay.

To accomplish this, the students will be working in the refurbished college kitchen.

The Yukon government spent $180,000 on new kitchen equipment.

Werner Holden, the college’s chef instructor, is proud of his new kitchen and gladly shows-off new tilting skillets that can cook 150 pork chops in an hour, a combi-oven that can cook 250 steaks at a time — in four to six minutes — and his 152-litre steam kettles used for soups and stews.

Holden’s other new toys include a steamer that can process 28 kilograms of vegetables in six minutes and a dishwasher that will wash 20,000 dishes over the course of the Games.

“Fifty per cent of it all is organization and set up and the rest should be pretty smooth, said Holden who has been running through the Games menus with his culinary students for months now.

Malaspina University-College on Vancouver Island is sending 10 of its culinary arts students and two instructors to Whitehorse for the Games.

“I know it’s going to be a lot of work, but they’re also looking forward to it being a different environment,” said Debbie Shore co-ordinator of the culinary arts program at Malaspina.

“It’s a different kitchen and they’ve never done anything like this before apart from cooking in our kitchens, which can be busy but not ‘big-banquet busy.’”

 The students have been preparing for the event by working in the university-college’s kitchen that serves the 10,000 people on campus.

“It’s really an opportunity to work in a different kitchen — some of them haven’t worked in any other big kitchens except this one,” said Shore.

 “It’s an opportunity to meet people from other programs and maybe see where they’re working and where they are planning to go and network with that group, and it’s also an opportunity to go somewhere where you might never go again.”

Tony Rechsteiner, of Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek, is bringing 11 culinary arts students and college culinary alumni to Whitehorse to bolster the food-production team for the Games.

“This will be a big event for them,” said Rechsteiner.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and there are only going to be about 70 people in all of Canada that can say they were involved in (the food services of the Games.)”

The only thing his students aren’t looking forward to are their accommodations.

The culinary arts students are being housed at Takhini Elementary School in bunk beds.

There just isn’t enough room for them in the athletes’ village said Mackay.

“They will get the opportunity to network, to talk to other students in other programs, because they may find it’s kind of a small (culinary community) and it helps to open doors for you when you go to a new city or even a new job and make those connections,” said Rechsteiner.

“On their resume it’s something that really stands out. Quite often it can be the difference between getting an interview or not. It makes them a little more unique.”

To pull off the best food ever seen at a Canada Winter Games, Mackay said they have been working closely with a dietician and nutritionist.

“As a dietician I was there to provide comments on elite athletes and what they might need, and what I can tell you is that the menu they’re serving, I feel, is very comprehensive and it will probably meet absolutely everyone’s likes and dislikes in some way,” said registered dietician Sharlene Clarke.

“It’s healthy choices and less healthy choices if they want because of course it’s all about choices and a lot of it will be made from scratch which is very exciting.”

The menus are also designed to accommodate athletes with special dietary needs or food allergies.

Menu items include: chicken corn chowder, veal parmigiana, quesadillas and perogies.

An analysis of every recipe served will be made available to the athletes along with labels for most of the products used.