The numbers are staggering ... and so are the choices. While athletes in ancient Greece ate dried figs, cheeses, and wheat products, the thousands of athletes competing in the 1996 Games will chow down on what may be the world's largest smorgasbord.
Their menu has more than 550 recipes from around the globe. It includes such esoteric treats as eggplant sandwiches with prosciutto and provolone, and tiramisu (a popular Italian dessert) as well as American Southern favorites such as black-eyed peas and honey-baked ham.
Senior Executive Chef Louis Ferretti of Philadelphia-based Aramark Foods, the official food service manager, will coordinate the largest food service program in the history of the Olympics. He says, "Athletes will have a humongous choice of items each day - they'll have everything they could want and then some."
Chef Louie, as he is known, is a culinary champion in his own right. He served athletes at the Games in Los Angeles, Lake Placid, Montreal, and Barcelona. And while he is matter-of-fact about the numbers and logistics of preparing 50,000 meals a day for 15,000 athletes and coaches, he notes that the menu is the most extensive in the history of the modern Olympics. His staff will cook up an average of 120 recipes plus 2,200 box lunches per day.
Inside the cavernous dining tent, Aramark will have a daily salad bar with more than 300 items, including many specially ordered fruits and vegetables like kimchi, fermented turnips or cabbage from Korea; jicama, a potato from Mexico; and dikon, a radish from Japan. And they'll lay out 15 cheeses, 15 kinds of fruit, and 22 kinds of freshly baked bread for every meal.
Athletes also have a choice of entrees: three meats, two kinds of fish, and two pastas. Some athletes from Asian countries will eat fish and rice for breakfast, the same fare athletes from Western countries will eat for dinner.
Chef Louie knows from experience that even the most disciplined hopefuls splurge and gobble down steaks, ice cream, cookies, and other goodies after their events.
He and his executive chefs and a nutritionist have pulled recipes from previous Games. And while they will continue to adjust measurements and ingredients, after the first full week of operation, they will implement a five-day revolving menu cycle.
The Rhode Island native, who grew up in the restaurant business and has a restaurant named after him in Boston, also has developed some new recipes. He often tests new concepts in one of the two kitchens in his home.
One of his signature recipes to be served at the summer Games is Sauce Tontine, a pasta dish with seafood, pepperoni, tomatoes, and olives. He named the recipe after a friend's boat.
He developed Red Snapper with Vidalia Onion Chutney in tribute to Atlanta, the host city of the first Games held in the South. Vidalia onions are a mild variety grown only in a designated area in Georgia.
But with the size and scope of his marathon feeding program, Chef Louie will not do much cooking. Instead he sees himself coaching, cheering, and refereeing as he coordinates the food-service operations for the village dining hall as well as for the Olympic Stadium, seven venues, and more than 1,500 concessions.
To accomplish this Herculean task, Ferretti has an immediate team of over 1,000 - five executive chefs, 35 managers, 66 supervisors, 275 chefs and preparation people, 382 servers, and 308 utility and warehouse workers. While he has about 200 more cooks and servers than he had in Barcelona, he says, "We'll do small-batch cooking - 500 to 600 orders at a time to keep the food as fresh as possible."
Though preparing such portions is a gigantic task, Chef Louie notes that with organization and planning you can cook for any number. He says, "I'm a stickler on mis en place (preparation on site) - it makes it so much easier for large and small-scale cooking."
Mark Thompson, one of the five executive chefs who has worked with Chef Louie for seven years, adds, "Even with our massive portions, Louie has an eye for detail. He'll pick out the one piece of fruit that's not quite ripe on the salad bar."
A computerized pre-production program developed by Aramark helps the executive chef and his staff monitor the number of portions consumed for almost every item, including fresh fruits, keep an inventory of all ingredients and a "needs list." Louie says, "We've just about got the preparation, cooking, and food out to the lines down to a science." Chef Louie is more concerned about gridlock on Atlanta's streets than in his 25,000 square-foot kitchen. He and his staff will have to forecast the ingredients they need four or five days in advance, but fresh produce, pasta, and fish are delivered between midnight and 6 a.m. to avoid traffic congestion.
The bulk of his kitchen staff will be doing food preparation - the cutting, slicing, chopping, and so on - throughout the night, so they cook continuously once they start serving during peak hours.
After the Olympics, Chef Louie will return to Warwick, R. I., where he lives just a few blocks from the old family restaurant. He says, "The Centennial Games will be my finale."
Sauce Tontine With Shrimp Over Penne
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce pepperoni, cut into julienne strips
1/4 cup chopped ripe olives
1/4 cup anchovy fillets, drained
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
3/4 pound small cooked shrimp
12 ounces penne pasta, uncooked
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is tender. Add pepperoni, olives, anchovies and cook, stirring occasionally, until anchovies dissolve into a paste.
Add mushrooms and cook until limp. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, red pepper, oregano, and black pepper.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer 10 minutes. Add shrimp and heat through.
Cook penne pasta in boiling water until tender; drain. Place pasta in a serving bowl. Pour sauce over pasta and toss gently. Garnish with fresh parsley.
- From Aramark Foods