Porridge, pasta and protein: The chef who fuels Team Sky for the Tour de France

Former Michelin Star and TV chef on feeding Team Sky during a Grand Tour

When you take a look at Henrik Orre’s resume it is perhaps no surprise that he’s is now head chef for the most successful cycling team in the world. Henrik has grown up in a world of competitive cycling and a culinary world that is just as competitive.

The son of a Norwegian road race champion, and brother of a national champion, Henrik was surrounded by bike racing during his childhood and would spend his weekends and summers following his family to various bike races.

As a former World Culinary Champion, Henrik has managed to combine these two passions by following the black and blue Team Sky convoy through Normandy, the Pyrenees, all the way across the Alps and on to Paris. — and he wants this yellow jersey as much as Chris Froome, you can take our word for it.

At 16, Henrik began his career as a chef and went onto college to learn to cook. By 2011, he was head chef at a two-star Michelin restaurant in Stockholm. Henrik was also part of the Norwegian team that won the World Culinary Championships in both 2005 and 2006. It is fair to say the Orre family don’t do half measures.

During this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné in June, BikeRadar sat down for a coffee with Henrik on the Team Sky ‘Kitchen Truck’ to learn more about his role in the team and what three weeks in July chasing Team Sky’s fourth yellow jersey entails.

Life on the road

The Team Sky kitchen truck
The Team Sky kitchen truck

After deciding to take a career sabbatical in 2011, Henrik was looking forward to taking a well-earned break and to spend more time with his family. “I was never able to switch off when working in the restaurants, it was a project that eats away at you 24/7, and you can never get away from the job. I decided I needed a break, to maybe find a new project to work on,” he says.

Following the 2012 Tour, Team Sky had begun dominating the sport and I became quite interested in what they were doing

It wasn’t perhaps the break that Henrik had envisaged however, within a month of leaving the restaurant business he was already lining up his new role and ultimately his new career.

“Thor Hushovd had won the World Championships in 2010, so the Norwegian Cycling Federation’s budget had grown massively. There was the possibility to bring in a full-time chef for the 2011 World Championships, and through my father and brother I knew the Norwegian team manager. They knew that I know a bit about cycling so they invited me along and I loved it,” Henrik explains

“It was a coincidence that a TV crew came to our training camp for the World Championships in Belgium and did some filming in the kitchen.”

Following this chance encounter, Henrik’s next role was on the TV screen. During the 2012 and 2013 Tours, Henrik hosted a Norwegian TV show that followed the race route and saw him cooking local and regional cuisine for three weeks.

Also during this period, Henrik continued his role on the Norwegian team and built a relationship and friendship with Edvald Boasson-Hagen. This new friendship would eventually lead him into the world of Sky. “Following the 2012 Tour, Team Sky had begun dominating the sport and I became quite interested in what they were doing. I got an opportunity through Eddy [Boasson-Hagen] to join Team Sky at a training camp in Mallorca and cook for two weeks.”

Henrik clearly impressed Dave Brailsford and the team because when the camp came to an end, and with Team Sky’s calendar becoming fuller, Henrik was asked to fill the gaps that the existing chef was unable to fill. “That first year I worked 40-50 days, in the second year I did 60-70, last year I did 120 days and this year I’m on course for 150 days with the team. It’s been four years now and it’s been quite a journey”

Marginal gains

A look inside the kitchen truck
A look inside the kitchen truck

In many ways, the attention to detail found in high-end cuisine draws parallels with the marginal gains in Team Sky, and professional cycling as a whole. The attention to detail and tiny percentage changes can ultimately become the difference between success and failure. It is perhaps this correlation between the industries which has drawn Henrik in so passionately.

Team Sky is always looking for that something extra and that is the environment I want to be in

“The team has developed massively, especially in the last two years. There is a huge difference to where we were in 2013 to where we are now. Having the kitchen truck, we now have the full package for the boys. The whole focus is massive.”

Sitting in the back of the truck emphasises Henrik’s point. Expanding sides on the truck’s trailer provide a dining room with eight perfectly laid out places and towards the front of the trailer there is a separate stainless-steel clad kitchen. The chrome espresso machine engraved with motivational quotes that would not look out of place in even the most hipster of coffee shops.

“We’re happy with what we are doing, we’ve taken this to a whole new level but there is a possibility to take it further. Team Sky is always looking for that something extra and that is the environment I want to be in. Team Sky has that competitive edge I learnt in my previous jobs so there is no room for complacency. We are on it all the time.”

The phrase marginal gains has become synonymous with Team Sky in recent years and as the sport begins to hit a technological ceiling, new ways of finding that extra percent has had to come from elsewhere.

“Last season and this season we have put a huge amount of time and resources into our food and the diets of the riders. We have developed a lot, but there is still a lot to do.”

With an estimated 8,000 calories needed for each rider over the three-week period of the Tour, we asked Henrik to put together a sample menu for us on a typical day:

Breakfast:

  • Bowl of porridge with coconut oil
  • Omelette with rice or pasta
  • Fresh fruit smoothie
  • A glass of fruit and vegetable juice
  • A few slices of bread or toast with jams or almond butter

On the bus to the stage start:

  • More fruit
  • Protein bars
  • Coffee
  • Snack

During the race:

  • Every 30 minutes consume 75-90 grams of carbohydrates (700ml of sports drink, rice cake and gel)

Post race:

  • Protein shake
  • Fresh fruit smoothie
  • Cooked protein (chicken or fish) with rice/pasta

Dinner:

  • Two protein options (meat or fish)
  • 3-4 carbohydrate options (rice, pasta, quinoa and potatoes)
  • LOTS of vegetables
  • Homemade fruit and vegetable juice
  • Dessert

Trying to please a nine-man team can be a challenge, especially for three weeks of racing. But the sheer quantity of food is also a challenge. As well as the Team Sky kitchen truck, Henrik drives around France in a refrigeration van, stopping at the supermarket every morning to stock up for the night’s dinner.

“During rest days the boys eat even more. They will only go out for around a two hour ride, so when they get back they will have lunch, which will be the same amount as dinner and then go and do media or get a massage in the afternoon. It’s not really a rest day for me!”

Enjoying his passions

Henrik Orre prepares breakfast in the kitchen
Henrik Orre prepares breakfast in the kitchen

Henrik has also found time to write a cookbook, Velochef, which was designed to cater specifically to cyclists, and contains eighty easy-to-make recipes for before, during and after your ride. But he plans more, and as well as fitting in 150 days of races into 2016, Henrik is in the process of writing a second book, which will again combine the Norwegian’s two passions: cycling and cooking.

Henrik rides a custom Passoni titanium bike, which was hand-built in Italy — Henrik’s passion and eye for detail doesn’t stop at work.

“We’re going to go to four different popular cycling destinations in Europe. The food is going to be inspired by the area, town or country and we will write about the place, meet the local personalities and also include some good routes with the best climbs and cafe stops on the way. It’s definitely built around travelling with your bike, but first and foremost, it is a cooking book!”

More and more of us are taking our bikes away with us on holiday, choosing to ride for pleasure instead of to lose those extra kilos, or train for the next sportive and Henrik definitely resonates with this idea: “It’s been so busy travelling with Team Sky. I have a young family at home, travelling to races and now trying to write a book has been a real challenge. Getting to ride in Mallorca, Girona, Nice and Lucca has been amazing and I hope the book comes together to give the reader more than just a cookbook.” Henrik rides a custom Passoni titanium bike, which was hand-built in Italy — Henrik’s passion and eye for detail doesn’t stop at work.

With Team Sky recently signing a four-year contract extension with Pinarello, the ‘Sky Train’ doesn’t look like it will be stopping anytime soon. Henrik assures me there is plenty more work to be done on diet and nutrition and with Chris Froome taking his third yellow jersey, whatever it is, seems to be working.

Take a closer look at the Team Sky kitchen truck by clicking or swiping through the gallery above.

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