Hannah GrantTeam Tinkoff-Saxo is fortunate to have Hannah Grant as their chef.

(Photo credit: Tinkoff-Saxo)

She ensures that the team’s riders have tasty and nutritionally balanced meals each day.

Of course, Hannah cooks for Tinkoff-Saxo in all races, not just the Tour de France.

However, it is the Tour which attracts the most attention.

And Hannah’s cookbook is entitled The Grand Tour Cookbook, available to order from her website.

Cycling’s food secrets

The Telegraph recently summarised Hannah’s cooking strategies for Tinkoff-Saxo. These are useful for mothers of budding athletes and anyone else who cooks for a family. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Avoid monotony:

The general thought is that food for professional cyclists is mostly just pasta and chicken. We don’t work with those old-school principles. What actually goes into feeding a troop of riders through a Tour de France or another Grand Tour is very different. The food should be inspiring and tasty. A real crowd-pleaser for the team is salmon with orange and ginger.

Eat together:

Meals are the only times of the day when all the riders can sit down together and just talk and relax.

Try new concepts:

I sometimes like to do dishes that are inspired by where the different riders are from. It gets them talking about flavours and tastes. No matter what your nationality or personality, everybody can relate to food somehow.

Make sure ingredients are identifiable:

If a meal is made of too many ingredients or things they don’t recognise then they might not want to eat it. So we work on the principle that every vegetable and ingredient is as visible as possible.

Cook from scratch:

We cook everything from scratch and we don’t use any ready-made products.

Treat your diners now and then:

On the night before a rest day I serve a build-your-own burger, which is a treat but it also indicates that it is a rest day so it is a psychological thing. It says: ‘There is a rest day coming up and you can relax a bit.’

Hannah Grant the chef

Hannah gave Velo News an extensive interview in 2013.

She is Danish and has a husband.

Initially, Hannah’s dream was to become a Michelin starred chef. She completed the requisite four years of training in Denmark. She worked at the world renowned Noma in Copenhagen.

She then considered a degree in food science from the University of Copenhagen. This would have necessitated a part-time job. Her sous chef suggested ringing a contact of his at Tinkoff-Saxo. The rest is history:

I thought it sounded intriguing. I have a basic education in health and nutrition, so I had the basics down for that, and he said, “This could be really interesting for you.”

And I spoke to the guys here at the team — they had lined up three other guys up for the job, but they wanted to try something new and so they hired a female chef. And basically that was it. That was the weird road that led me here. And so I got hired and got thrown straight into a training camp, 30 riders, alone, the hardest 14 days of my life, but I earned my spot here.

Although she knew little about cycling at the time, Hannah’s now an avid fan, which is just as well!

She has a huge responsibility every day the team is on tour. Balancing nutritional needs, sourcing food in remote areas and avoiding digestive issues are constant preoccupations:

… we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.

It’s all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that’s a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can’t just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.

if I have even the slightest doubt that something’s good, I throw it out. I never serve shellfish for the same reason, never any mussels or anything. Never anything that could have even a one in 1,000 chance of not being good. Even if it smells fresh, I never serve it. That’s a priority. I take no chances.

As for odd locations on the Tour de France, Hannah says:

… now I’m in the routine and I know how to do it, so it’s easier. I source from wherever I can. Sometimes I order through the hotels, sometimes there’s a market, sometimes I go to (the supermarket). In France, it’s great, they have lots of biodynamic things in the market. We go very much organic and biodynamic whenever we can.

So it’s basically whatever is available, but because we have the big truck and the big fridges, I can fill up for four or five days in a row. So I know now that when we’re going to the Alps, I can’t get anything on Alpe d’Huez, so it’s important for me to load up and be ready for that.

Hannah acknowledges that being away from home for weeks at a time is difficult, however, she minimises distractions:

It’s not so bad. The first year was hard, because I didn’t know how to source my energies out. Now I know, I keep my conversations short with my husband (so I can stay focused on my work). This is also a learning process in a relationship. But for sure, I love being out, and it’s nice coming home. But it’s a lot about getting used to being out here.

Tinkoff-Saxo may not be the only professional cycling team with a chef, however, Hannah Grant is the first to lift the lid on what goes on in a Tour de France kitchen.