TRURO, N.S. – As the World Junior A Challenge tournament wraps up this afternoon, a question comes to mind – What does it take to feed six teams of high-level athletes?
While fans shout and cheer as players slam each other into the boards and perform at their absolute best during the WJAC this week, the kitchen staff at the RECC is working behind the scenes to make sure those growing athletes are properly fueled up and fed.
“At the beginning of the week we were cooking six meals a day,” said Michele Parker, food and beverage manager for the Rath Eastlink Community Centre.
“That’s just what they get here, they also get two meals a day elsewhere too.”
Parker and her kitchen crew have spent the last week cooking from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. each day, often preparing meals well outside their comfort zone to accommodate the often unfamiliar team menus.
“It gets a little more difficult when you are dealing with international menus, as they have specific needs,” said Parker.
“To add to that, they are athletes, so we want to make sure we are giving them things that are going to help them perform to their best ability.”
In the months before the tournament, Hockey Canada worked to set up approved menus for each team, creating a list of meals that would allow players to eat something familiar while also ensuring they got what they needed to perform.
“One of the things we look at with meals is to make sure the teams are being served within a very specific window of time,” said Corinne Ethier, coordinator of events and properties for Hockey Canada.
“Usually that follows practices and games, because that is when they will need optimal nutrition. They are also mainly teenagers, ranging in age from 16 to 19, and our tallest player is about 6’9,” so they all have hollow legs. They eat a lot – about four full meals a day.”
While meals are different for each team, they all follow a basic pattern of two proteins, such as chicken or beef, three to four starches, such as potatoes or pastas, and a lot of dairy and fruit.
“There is a lot of sourcing and recipe sampling, because I’m not up on my Russian recipes for the most part,” said Parker.
“The fun things we got to do were some of the more creative things, but they were also nerve-wracking as we didn’t know how they were supposed to be.”
Some of the meals that stick out for Parker and her team were the Russian meals, which featured Ukha, a traditional fish soup, Solyanka, a thick soup made with cured meats and veggies, and Piroshki, a sort of meat pie stuffed into a baked or fried bun.
While some meals are made for the teams at the RECC, they also have meals set up at their hotels and different locations throughout town.
“With so many teams, we look to really balance them throughout the community,” said Ethier.
“We want to make sure they can come over and receive something they are used to eating and enjoy, but we also like to give them the opportunity to eat in other locations around Truro to see and interact with the community.”
The last few days of the tournament have kept the kitchen team busy as late next-day team announcements kept them from planning ahead, but knowing what meal each team liked most allowed them to plan quickly.
“From a players perspective, the Canadian teams and Team USA loved the meatballs, they were all over them,” said Parker.
“The Russians, though, love chicken and roast beef. They can’t eat a lot of our spices and sauces because they are not things they are used to, so it would upset them.
“These boys can eat, but they are using every one of those calories for sure.”