Olympic Kitchen Fuels Up To Make 50,000 Meals a Day

From Pt Forestier to peach cobbler, menu gives athletes plenty to choose

The tractor-trailers, cranes, and forklifts have disappeared. And the three heavy-duty vinyl tents stretched over an aluminum frame stand in what once was a student parking lot.

In the next two weeks, this high-tech big top will become the world's largest temporary dining hall for 10,070 athletes - the record-breaking number who will be arriving to compete in the 1996 Centennial Games, July 17 through Aug. 4.

The 80,000-square-foot structure, the largest in a host city where tents are popping up like bubbles at a kid's birthday party, is located on the Georgia Tech campus in the Olympic Village in downtown Atlanta.

The heart of this massive facility is the 25,000-square-foot modular kitchen, which will churn out 50,000 meals a day - including an average of 3,000 to 4,000 box lunches - to the 10,000 athletes and about 5,000 coaches and trainers.

The gleaming kitchen, designed by Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., the Games' official food-service manager, seems to stretch from the village to the Olympic stadium. The food preparation expanse has row after row of 80-gallon multipurpose kettles, 20 convection ovens, 30 72-cubic-foot refrigerators, and four walk-in refrigerators, each the size of a small house.

A fleet of tractor-trailers transported the 13 modular units, each weighing an average of 25,000 pounds, to the site.

Jerome Bill, Aramark's Olympic Village director, says, "This is the biggest modular kitchen ever assembled, and we'll use every inch of it during 33 days of continuous operation."

Pressing to meet the deadline, a construction crew working seven days a week set the units in place with giant cranes. Mr. Bill says, "Everything fits together like a giant puzzle."

But before construction could begin, crews had to remove curbing, light posts, and surrounding trees, and level out the slope. Larry Asher, Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games assistant program manager for the dining facility, notes, "This site is unique and a lot of things about the construction are new and untried."

Other Olympic dining halls have been recycled after the closing ceremonies for new uses like a federal prison in Lake Placid, N.Y., and a supermarket in Sarajevo, but this huge stretch of heavy-duty fabric will be used for a month and then torn down in a matter of days. And the site will be returned to a parking lot before Georgia Tech's fall quarter begins.

The fully air-conditioned facility, scheduled to begin serving meals and preparing box lunches July 6 for athletes in training, will be stocked with more than 2.5 million pounds of food. The dining hall, which can seat 3,500, will be open 24 hours a day so competitors can eat whenever they please. Some athletes, especially those in track and field, are known to start "carbo-loading" at 3 a.m.

During peak hours, there will be 14 hot lines and three self-serve islands with drinks, soups, salads, and pastas. But the hot lines can be doubled in a matter of minutes. Marc Bruno, associate Olympic director of Aramark, says, "The serving area is designed to keep everyone moving - no one should have to wait longer than one minute."

To meet the Herculean demands for food production, more than 1,100 workers will staff the kitchen and dining tent. The team of executive chefs and managers come from Aramark, but most of the other employees come from college campuses across the country.

For the athletes representing 197 countries, the workers will prepare delectable fare - a far cry from the typical institutional offerings.

Athletes at training sites and outlying venues can tote box lunches, each with 12 items ranging from delicacies, such as Pt Forestier, to "high energy" foods such as raisins and snack bars. The hefty lunches, packed and sealed in commemorative containers, include enough goodies for all-day nibbling.

The dining-room menu includes 550 dishes, with 75 new recipes for pasta and Southern specialties such as grits, barbecued chicken, and peach cobbler. Senior executive chef Louis Ferretti says, "Most athletes eat everything." But smoked and dried fish, three kinds of meat, breads and grains, including several types of rice, and fresh fruit, will be daily staples.

The executive chefs and corporate nutritionists selected popular recipes from previous Games, such as Spanish paella, shrimp creole, lasagna, and veal cutlets. They also asked the National Organizing Committee from each country for favorite recipes so athletes would have "a taste of home." All recipes are tested in Aramark's kitchen before they become part of the official menu.

Cynthia Dexter-Bowen, Aramark's Olympic Village purchasing director, says, "This is the most traditional menu we've ever had. We have 50 more recipes than we had in Barcelona. And the menu allows for religious and dietary restrictions."

All food will be labeled in English, French, and Spanish with nutritional information, and pictograms will identify the four basic food groups. "Athletes," says Ms. Dexter-Bowen, "may not be able to tell the difference between beef bourguignon or stroganoff, but they'll be able to tell that it's beef." A dietician and a translator will also be available in the dining room's nutritional kiosk.

Dexter-Bowen says, "Some recipes that work well for six or eight people don't work well for several thousand athletes." To take some of the guesswork out of cooking for 15,000, the staff uses a specially developed computerized system to "explode" the recipes for large groups, maintain quality, and reduce waste. But the final test of what works will take place when all the hungry athletes arrive.

* On July 11, the Monitor will run a follow-up story featuring the Olympic Village's executive chefs and more recipes.

Here are a few dishes athletes will try at the Olympic Village Dining Tent, courtesy of Aramark Corp.:

Red Snapper With Vidalia Onion Chutney

CHUTNEY:

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root

1/2 cup diced tomatoes in juice, drained

1 small Vidalia onion, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon golden raisins

2 pounds red snapper, cut into 5-ounce fillets

Combine all chutney ingredients except raisins in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes. Add raisins. Simmer an additional 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is evaporated and raisins are plump. Cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Arrange fillets on baking pan coated with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Portion 1/4 cup chutney over each fillet. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Jalapeo Grits

1-1/2 cups uncooked grits

Cool water

4 cups boiling water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

1/2 cup canned crushed jalapeo peppers, or 2 tablespoons jalapeo paste

Cover grits with cool water.

Stir to allow any bran to rise to the surface. Rinse to remove bran.

Pour grits into boiling, salted water. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 20 minutes or until thickened. Stir occasionally.

Add the Romano cheese and jalapeo peppers. Mix thoroughly.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Chick Pea and Feta Salad

DRESSING:

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon tomato juice

2 teaspoons ketchup

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Dash salt

Dash Worcestershire sauce

Dash Tabasco sauce

SALAD:

1 15-ounce can chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained

1 medium tomato, chopped

2 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Combine all dressing ingredients. Blend until smooth. Combine chick peas and remaining ingredients.

Add dressing and toss to distribute evenly and coat thoroughly. Chill.

Serves 8 as a side dish.

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