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Hannah Grant interview

Hannah Grant Tinkoff-Saxo Bank chef
Jordan Gibbons
26 Jun 2015

The Tinkoff-Saxo Bank chef tells us about molecular gastronomy, eating leftovers and cooking for Alberto Contador.

Hot off the back of fuelling the Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team during Alberto Contador's Giro d'Italia victory, we caught up with Hannah Grant at the UK launch of her cookery book.

Could describe your background?

“I’m a trained chef from the Culinary Institute of Copenhagen. I graduated eight years ago, in 2007. Before that, the Royal Danish Navy because I had to get some discipline into my system. I thought what better way than to join the Navy. I sailed around Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe islands.

“I moved to England after graduating. I went to work at the Fat Duck when the restaurant was number two in the world rankings.”

Hannah Grant omelette

So fine dining really?

“Yeah I thought at that time I was going to be the next big Michelin starred female chef and I had to learn molecular gastronomy as my basic weapon of food destruction but it turned out differently.

“I met my husband when I was there. That later took me to work on a kiteboarding expedition where I cooked for professional kiteboarders.

“After that I went back to university and studied health and nutrition, working at Noma on the side.”

How did you get involved with the team?

"Well when I did my studies I decided to change my course from one university to another and to get in I had to do extra chemistry classes. I had to study the chemistry and the maths on the side, because it was now food science, and working at Noma full time and studying was extremely difficult. I had to get up at 7am to go to school then go to work afterwards – it was impossible.

“I contacted my old sous chef from Noma and asked if he knew of a job where I could study. I was thinking events or banquets and he called me as said ‘There’s this cycling team and they’re looking for a chef.’

“I called them up, went to an interview and they already had three guys lined up who spoke Spanish and French, so were perhaps more linguistically fitted than I was. But Bjarne Riis wanted to do things differently so he made the decision to be the first team to hire a female chef to try and change the atmosphere. The first year was the hardest year of my life. My first job was a training camp in Majorca with 30 guys. I was on my own cooking three meals a day for ten days and by the end I was fucked. I told them unless I got some help it wasn’t going to work.

“After the season they asked if I wanted to stay and I agreed as long as I got a permanent helper. Here we are five years later.”

Hannah Grant interview

Can you describe a typical day at a Grand Tour?

“I get up in the morning two hours before breakfast. I get the generator in the truck going. It makes a bit of noise so I try and park it by the other teams bedrooms! Breakfast is served three hours before neutral start, four hours before on time trial days.

“Everything runs off the stage finish. So depending on how long it is you work backwards, so it might take six hours that day and finish at 5pm. So they start at 11am and I’ll serve breakfast at 8am.”

So breakfast one morning could be 7am and then 11am the next day?

“Yeah it changes a lot. Everything is served out of the truck but they eat in the hotel room. I clean down whilst they eat and pack everything up ready for it to drive 250km to the next hotel.

“I go shopping every three or four days and pack the fridges. Sometimes the transfers are longer than others and sometimes you’re at the top of a mountain.

“I usually start cooking four hours before estimated time of dinner. When the bus pulls in, I know I have 2 hours 15 minutes before I serve. Everything is approximate. Once I’ve served I clean down and prep bread dough for breakfast. Then I eat some leftovers – I don’t really get to sit down for dinner but I eat as I cook so it’s not so bad. I’m usually done two hours after serving.”

Is there a nutritionist you work with or do you do all that yourself?

“We’ve had a lot of nutrionists over the years that work with the team. We have guidelines that we set when I started five years ago - we focus on lots of vegetables, cold-pressed fats and lean meat. We try and encourage the riders to choose wheat-free dense carbs. Not only pasta. Old school riders think it’s all pasta and chicken but we try and mix that up a bit. Some of the riders have gluten allergies.”

Hannah Grant energy bars

Ah yes, I saw in the book there are a lot of gluten free recipes. Do you try and get the riders to avoid it in general?

“Yeah I do but trying to get riders to change what they’ve done for a decade is hard. Of course I always do pasta but there is always an alternative. They eat about three times as much as a normal person, which puts a lot of stress on their digestive system. It’s important that they have a variety.”

And in race, they have a nutrition sponsor I guess?

“Yeah we have a nutrition sponsor for bars and gels but I also provide things. Again to mix things up as you get tired of eating the same thing for weeks. The soigneurs make them the sandwiches because I don’t have time to do all of it. Some of the guys can’t eat those products or won’t, just because they simple don’t like it, so it’s important to give them options.”

Are any of the older guys difficult to work with, or have any special requirements?

“Now it’s my fifth season I’ve got to know what the old racehorses want but they’re very easy in general. It’s funny - a lot of them have welcomed the new ideas because they’ve found as they’ve got old their metabolism has changed. Now they can’t eat like they could when they were 25 and that means they have to be careful what they load up with. If they pile in the pasta even the riders can put on a tiny little belly.”

Hannah Grant Grand Tour Cookbook

So you mentioned earlier that you’ve got a book out. Could you tell us a little more about that?

“I wanted to share a new way of thinking about riding food and show people what goes into fuelling someone through 3500km of racing. It’s called the Grand Tour Cookbook and it’s 21 stages of food. There are three to four dishes a day and two low-carb rest days. 

“It’s an introduction to the principles we use in the team. It helps you assess what your body needs when you ride and when you don’t ride, as well as some interviews with the riders like Ivan Basso and Alberto [Contador] plus some of the younger guys too. They offer the tips they use to tweak their weight and maintain form in racing, as well as how they’ve coped with slowing metabolisms as they’ve got older. So you can find the rider that fits you best – everyone is different and everyone’s body is different so you need to find what works for you. We’ve got a gluten free and dairy free recipes too.”

The Grand Tour Cookbook is available to order now from Hannah Grant Cooking or for wholesale trade at Musette Publishing

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