By Kacper Antoszewski
They say that you are what you eat: it's no surprise then that the top athletic talent in Manitoba is fueled by top-shelf grub, prepared by True North Head Chef Leonard Arnold Church. Church is no stranger to cooking for athletes: as the head chef at the Bell MTS Iceplex, he regularly cooks for the Winnipeg Jets and the Manitoba Moose during training camps and periodically during the regular season.
Great-tasting food is important for athlete morale, but for top-level athletes, nutrition is paramount. As he does for his professional teams, Church provides a balanced menu providing protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients. Nutrition isn't always at the top of a young athlete's mind, so the most important part, says Church, is making sure it's available. “You can't always get them to eat it, but you have to give them the healthy option.”
Church has simplified his menu for the Winter Games cafeteria, but that doesn't make the week any less of a challenge. His kitchen is tasked with serving up to 800 athletes, coaches and officials three times a day for the duration of the Games, almost twice the capacity of the 450-seat restaurant he normally oversees at the Iceplex. On top of the sheer volume of food, the number of athletes presents the possibility of unchecked allergies and other food sensitivities. Thus, the kitchen works with staple seasonings like salt and pepper, garlic, herbs like basil, and staple sauces.
Still, the kids are eating up the food, literally. On turnaround day, Church said “We had a hundred kids come down here and thank us for the food, and the great time they had.”
Food services is unique in that almost everyone running the sector is a volunteer: Church and his friend and fellow chef Alex Kansky are the only staff in the area. Nonetheless, Church said that the quality of volunteers has been top-notch. “The main power of the kitchen has been the volunteers ... and they've been very patient with us, when we get pulled in different directions. Excellent volunteers.”
Food services volunteer Mervat Yehia says the experience working in the kitchen has been great. “[Church is] an awesome person, and I love working with him and Alex. Everyone really appreciates what we're doing, and it's going to be an awesome week.”