Tips & Recipes

Meet our team chef

Q&A with Owen Blandy

January 14, 2022

In 2020 EF Education-EasyPost welcomed our current team chef, Owen Blandy. From a career as an accountant to chef in a London steakhouse, to Red Hook criterium racer to cooking local vegetables at a quiet farm retreat, Owen’s path to the EF Education-EasyPost chef’s truck has taken some surprising turns. We sat down with Owen recently to learn more about his background and the work he does to feed our riders day in and day out.

Tell us about your background and how you came to be the team chef for EF Education-EasyPost.

My mum and dad taught me how to cook at a young age, especially my mum. I loved going grocery shopping with her as a kid. I had a real fascination with ingredients and food shopping, which comes full circle today, working as a team chef, walking into a new supermarket nearly every day in a different place in the world.

So my parents were my earliest influence when it comes to my love of food. And then growing up, moving to London, living away from my family was another step on the path. I never wanted to be a chef when I was younger. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I found myself in an office job in London. I eventually felt this urge, though, to do something different. So I quit my office job and started to work as a chef, working in London restaurants. I worked at a great steakhouse, some gastropubs. There was a period where I briefly went back to the office for a few years, but then, during the height of the pandemic, I properly quit London, quit office life and moved to a farm. I was happy there, I still am very happy when I’m staying there in the off-season. It’s a retreat, a wellbeing space called 42 Acres near Bristol in the West Country, where groups of people come to stay, and I would cook for the people. We have our own gardens there, grow our own vegetables, we have chickens, it’s nice. I love the space, the tranquility there, and being in touch with the seasonal changes. I didn’t like restaurant cooking as much because I couldn’t interact with the people I was serving. I love feeding people, eating with them, educating and engaging with them.

I loved living and working at the farm. When I got the call from the team in 2020, however, I knew it was the right move. If you can keep up with the energy level, which is sometimes very intense, I think it’s a dream chef’s job. If you’re into sport and cycling like I am, being able to be a part of the team, to shop for foods and cook in these magical countries, it’s an absolute dream.

Describe your approach to feeding professional cyclists.

I think the key to this job is being open-minded. I’m a flexible cook, I’m not ego-driven. I want feedback, I tailor food to riders’ tastes and to how the day has gone for the riders in the races. I try my best to cook seasonally and locally, which is part of what I love about being a team chef. I love meeting the local people in the shops, the markets, the hotels, and cooking like the people in the area. This is why my menus are deliberately flexible every day.

Cooking for the athletes on our team is in some ways straightforward because it’s largely macro[nutrient]-based. Getting the fundamentals right for them is the most important thing each day. Providing the correct amounts of carbs and protein, for example. And then I can have some fun with the vegetables, the salads, the cakes. It’s a lot of cooking in bulk, but there’s space for some touches of magic and inspiration.

Quantities can be challenging sometimes, because when I’m here cooking for WorldTour cyclists at stage races, for example, I’m not cooking for “average” humans. Sometimes I’ll cook an amount of pasta or rice that I think is just right, but it ends up being too much, or sometimes not enough. It’s up to the riders what they feel like eating on any given day, so sometimes all the rice or all the pasta will get left, for example. Getting that sort of feedback, though, is great, it's important and it helps me do my job better.

Lastly, I’ll say that easily-digested foods are essential. I largely avoid high-fiber foods, or if I’m working with a lot of vegetables I make sure they’re cooked properly, included in a soup, pureed, baked into a bread or cake, for example. And the breads I make use a sourdough starter and are fermented overnight to help aid in digestion.

What was your connection to cycling before joining the EF Education-EasyPost staff?

I have some experience racing bikes, not at a professional level but at a somewhat high amateur level. I've seen and felt what it takes to put in the time, the hours to perform at a high level. I raced fixed-gear track bikes, competed in the Red Hook crit series for five years, so that ends up being helpful context for me.

Do you have any tips that recreational athletes could implement in the kitchen to help improve their health or athletic performance?

First off, try to gain a good understanding of portions and quantities in your day-to-day nutrition. You don’t need to get out a scale every time you cook, but do try to adhere to certain quantities to ensure that you’re not eating too much of any one thing. What does 50g of carbohydrate look like, for example? Try acquainting yourself with this sort of thing. Be flexible with recipes and make sure you’re not overeating in any one area. You likely don’t need a massive amount of protein, for example. A 200g portion is more than enough for one meal, for example, so try to familiarize yourself with what that portion looks like.

Second thing: Eat seasonally! For flavor, your health and the sake of the planet, it’s great to eat seasonally when possible.

Finally, to add flavor to meals without simply adding fat and sugar, use fresh ingredients like herbs and acidic fruits or vegetables like citrus or apple. Add them to rice, pasta, smoothies, and juices. It gives a lot of flavor without adding “bad stuff.”

How do you decide what you’re going to cook for the riders each day? Do you plan everything out far in advance? Do you work with whatever is available?

I’m a trained accountant, which is basically a lot of spreadsheet work. So I love a good spreadsheet. I have a master spreadsheet for every race where I do a lot of my meal planning. It’s always color-coded so I can just glance at it and know what we’re in for that day. It’s arranged by days, according to what sort of stage it is (mountain, flat, time trial, etc.) and the expected strain on the riders’ bodies. That helps plan meals on a macro level, and it helps inform quantities. I split my planning up roughly into a. Carbs / b. Protein / c. Fruit and veggies. For the carbs I cycle through four or five options: Rice, pastas, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are favorites. I make sure the chef van is always stocked with those options so I can switch it up at the last minute if a rider has a request, or if I know they ate a lot of one certain thing at breakfast, I’ll change it up for dinner. It’s important that meals don’t become boring for the riders.

Riders’ nutritional needs are weather-dependent, too, though. So in that way it’s also important to be flexible. If it’s a really hot day and the riders have been sweating throughout a stage, maybe I’ll increase sodium, avoid heavy meals like stews and risottos. Lighter foods tend to be more palatable after a hot day of racing. And on the flip side, after a cool rainy day of racing at the Giro, for example, I’d make something warming like a pumpkin carrot soup.

What does a typical day at a Grand Tour look like for you, team chef?

Usually it’s a 6 a.m. wakeup, followed by two hours of breakfast prep. Depending on race start time, the riders will have a breakfast meal and a “race meal.” Sometimes that means an 8 a.m. breakfast, then a 10 a.m. race meal. Often, though, the two meals will be merged. Breakfast would be oatmeal, overnight Bircher muesli, sourdough pancakes, a selection of cereals, cakes and rice cakes. Omelets, avocados, yogurt, fresh berries and other fruits, maybe some cold ham. It’s essentially the same spread every day for breakfast. So I lay out the breakfast spread and make omelets for the guys as they arrive at breakfast. They each like their eggs cooked slightly differently, so with new riders I like getting to know what their preferences are. I chat with riders during breakfast; it’s a good time to connect with them.

Then we clean up breakfast, and I load up the chef truck and get on the road as quickly as possible. Never unpacking one’s suitcase is key, especially during a Grand Tour.

Once I arrive at the next night’s team hotel I get the notebook out and refine the night’s menu. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. is down time for planning, resting, maybe even going for a run. Then it’s back into the kitchen. I watch the race from the chef van, I always have the race on in there, and I prep for dinner. All cooking is done in the chef van, which is pretty cool. Once the race is over I put music or a podcast on and keep cooking. It’s an efficient space, everything is just an arm’s reach away.

Dinner is usually quite late, anywhere from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or later. So once it’s ready I serve it buffet-style, with a chalkboard where I’ve written the menu. I check in with the riders about how they’re feeling, talk with them about the food.

Bedtime is 10:30 or 11 p.m. or later, after cleaning up from dinner. Then get ready to do it all over again!

Are there any common meal requests you get from the riders? Things they particularly enjoy?

Avocados and homemade tarts and cakes. Banana bread is a favorite. First and foremost: variety.

How much do you think the food we eat impacts our performance, whether in athletics or simply in day-to-day life?

Essentially, if you want to be successful, you need high-quality fuel. If you don’t get the correct fuel you’re not going to be able to perform at your top level. There are no shortcuts.

You are what you eat. And you are what you eat eats, you know? If you’re eating meat and fish, make sure you trust the source when possible. Speak to your butcher or fishmonger to understand where your food is coming from. I know it’s not always possible to visit a farm down the road, but I truly believe it benefits both our bodies and our communities in many different ways to eat as locally and sustainably as we can. Treat all ingredients with respect.

And follow Owen’s adventures as team chef on Instagram: @thebikingbaker

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