February 5, 2014 Updated: February 5, 2014 at 11:45 am
Team USA is gearing up to reach for the gold at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. And so are the cooks who will feed them.
Fueling the athletes to ensure they are at the top of their game is Jacqueline Hamilton, senior executive chef for the United States Olympic Committee, based in Colorado Springs.
Hamilton and her staff departed for Russia on Jan. 23. Before she left, we talked to her about how she prepares for such an undertaking.
The Gazette: This is a major task, feeding the athletes. How did you start the process?
Jacqueline Hamilton: Our International Games Department has been traveling to Sochi for numerous years to secure locations for the staff and athletes. Our associate director of food and nutrition, Terri Moreman, also has traveled to Sochi to meet with food vendors and preview the facilities. The next step in menu development is keeping in mind that products that we are accustomed to in the United States may not be available, so we will adjust as necessary.
Gazette: How many athletes will be attending the Games?
Hamilton: In the U.S. delegation, there will be approximately 300 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as 700 support staff.
Gazette: How many years have you overseen the meals during the Olympics?
Hamilton: I have had the privilege to assist with meal support at five Olympic Games - Atlanta, Athens, Beijing, Vancouver, London - and now Sochi.
Gazette: How many culinary staff do you take?
Hamilton: Our team consists of two sous chefs from each of the U.S. Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, Lake Placid (N.Y.) and Chula Vista (Calif.) in addition to myself and our associate director of food services.
Gazette: How does the menu address different cultural demands and palates?
Hamilton: We at the USOC only handle the business of the U.S. delegation. The International Olympic Committee handles the athlete village where most of the athletes and teams are housed and fed. There are three athlete villages - coastal, mountain and endurance.
Gazette: Where will the kitchen be located?
Hamilton: The U.S. athletes will be housed in the athlete village and consuming a variety of menus that are prepared there. I will be working in the coastal area and taking care of the support staff and volunteers, while also supporting our athletes with recovery foods outside of the village. Of course, the athletes think of us as family and will find their way to our location for a home-cooked meal.
Gazette: Can you give some examples of food required by different types of winter sports? Figure skater? Skier?
Hamilton: Each athlete has different calorie requirements depending on their sport. For example, freestyle aerial skiers are very light eaters - salads and lean protein. One of our speed skaters prefers to consume some of his calories through a juice-based diet. Other athletes require more calories and adjust their carbohydrates as needed.
Gazette: How do the athletes know the food is going to meet their nutritional needs?
Hamilton: We have sports dietitians that work directly with the athletes and guide them on their nutritional needs.
Gazette: With the Games in Russia, will there be some Russian-style dishes on the menu?
Hamilton: I have added pickled items such as beets, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower and radishes to our menu here at the OTC to give our athletes a taste of Russian cuisine. We have also added a borscht station to our soup rotation and have received numerous compliments, including one of our Russian coaches telling me that it was the best borscht he has ever eaten.
Gazette: On an average day at the Games, how many meals do you serve?
Hamilton: At my location, we will serve a full American breakfast, a light lunch and dinners such as soups, stews, entr? and salads. We will also provide action stations, featuring pasta, seafood entr?s, pad Thai and of course the borscht station. Currently, our head count is 75-100 per meal, but this will be adjusted daily as more guests and athletes join us for meals or special celebrations.
Gazette: Where do you accommodate all the diners?
Hamilton: We will be living and cooking in one location, which has a dining room that seats 75.
Gazette: Do you ship some of the food? Or buy it when you arrive?
Hamilton: We shipped pallets of sponsor products, such as peanut butter, coffee, cereal, as well as organic steel cut oats, nuts, dried fruit and spices. We will be purchasing our meats and produce from local vendors in Sochi.
Gazette: I'm sure you have an Olympic-sized budget too.
Hamilton: Yes, we have a budget, but we must be flexible to increased costs and we will ensure that every athlete has what he or she needs nutritionally to maximize their performance.
Gazette: What was the worst thing to happen during the Winter Olympics?
Hamilton: I cannot really think of anything that has not been a positive experience. Being at the Games is a very exciting time. When our athletes win, we cheer, and when they lose, we cry with them like any family would.