GB Rowing Team cooking up a storm at Caversham

A healthy and nutritious diet is a vital element when it comes to reaching the levels of performance required for the elite athletes in the GB Rowing Team, and the Team Support staff work tirelessly to ensure the athletes get exactly what they need from their food whilst they train at the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake in Caversham.

Recently though, Senior Performance & Lifestyle Adviser, Melanie Chowns, has teamed up with GB Rowing Team chef, Omar Meziane, to provide GB’s rowers with cooking classes which mean they will be able to re-create the sort of food they need, when they are return home from an intense day of training.

On the day of the first lesson, Mel Chowns spoke about why she decided to organise the classes: “Part of my role as the lifestyle adviser for the GB Rowing Team is to try and organise activities outside of the sport that will keep the crew stimulated as well as providing a learning experience. The minute that Omar joined the GB Rowing Team as the chef here it was very quickly apparent that he was somebody who would definitely inspire our athletes to get together and do some cooking classes”.

Amongst the attendees at the first two classes were the women’s pair of Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, who took part in a Comic Relief episode of Great British Bake Off last year, Alex Gregory from GB’s unbeaten 2014 coxless four, World silver medallists in the men’s pair, James Foad and Matt Langridge, as well as Polly Swann, Jess Eddie and Zoe De Toledo from the women’s eight.

Omar has been working for the GB Rowing Team for the last six months, but prior to that his experience of feeding elite athletes had come from working with London Wasps: “I had my own recruitment agency and one of the jobs I picked up was to provide chefs for Adams Park on match days. Somebody let me down one day, so I ended having to work the shift, then a job came up at the training ground and, being a fan of London Wasps, I jumped at the opportunity.

“Learning how to feed athletes was incredibly interesting to me. I come from a classical background where everything is fairly ‘set in stone’ – a recipe is a recipe – whereas working in this environment gives you responsibility and enjoyment at having to create new recipes quite often depending on what is available and what the athletes have to eat”.

Omar works with Lead Nutritionist, Wendy Martinson, to establish the kinds of food the rowers need at certain times, before he sets about creating his menus: “Wendy gives me a rough idea of what they need to be eating at certain times of year, so then I essentially go out to market and see what’s in season, what fits in with our budget and then work that in with Wendy’s requirements”.

Wendy also spoke about working alongside Omar, saying: “We work really well together, he’s pretty self-sufficient. Occasionally I’ll ask for certain things at certain times, like more protein at the moment because we’re doing more strength training, so he’ll work that into the menu. He has lots of experience working with elite sports, and these classes seemed like a great opportunity to use his skills to teach the athletes to do a few more bits themselves at home”.

All the rowers who took part in the first two classes thoroughly enjoyed themselves, with GB sculler, Vicky Thornley, speaking enthusiastically on her class afterwards, saying: “Omar is a great guy, he cooks for us here every day and all the food is really good, so I wanted to learn a bit about how he makes such tasty food. Obviously it’s important for us to eat good food but we want it to be tasty as well, and the class showed us how to do that. It was really good fun. We learnt to make bread and that was the first time I’ve made bread from scratch so that was really exciting, and we learnt some quick and simple ways to eat healthily so it was great!”.

World silver medallist Matt Langridge also enjoyed taking the opportunity to learn about cooking: “I basically signed up because I can’t cook at all! I’ve managed to get through 31 years avoiding cooking completely, so it was a good chance to do something a bit different and learn some new skills. It’s been great fun and I’ve really enjoyed it! Obviously, food is such an important part of what we do, it’s great to get the chance to learn more about it from Omar, who’s a great chef – he’s transformed the food here at Caversham, and hopefully I can transform my food at home now!”.

In the first series of classes the rowers took part in, there were several different tasks and demonstrations for them to get involved in, from learning a fail-safe bread recipe to a taste experiment involving pig’s skin dipped in chocolate sauce!

There were also recipes for fishcakes, which focussed solely on the fish (using no breadcrumbs or potato), and a lamb tagine recipe. Last up for the class was a demonstration from Omar on how to make the perfect scrambled eggs, with a beurre noisette and cider vinegar – a real breakfast of champions.

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