Originally created 02/08/02

Games cooking up an Olympic-sized buffet



SALT LAKE CITY - The Winter Olympics party is all about winners and ... wieners.

Athletes will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals, while fans vie for the official 2002 frankfurter - a quarter-pound, all-beef hot dog that fills an entire bun and then some.

This old-world sausage, made in a family-owned plant in Milwaukee, is huuuuge - just like food will be during the Games.

"I say the Olympics are all about food and maybe we will get lucky and have some great sports, too," joked Don Pritchard, a former chef and the director of food services for the Games.

There are no medals for "most mouths fed," but serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to the Olympic masses may be the most Herculean fete that takes place in Utah during the next few weeks.

There will be 3,700 athletes, coaches and team officials; 9,000 journalists; 3,000 staff members; 19,000 volunteers; and at least 70,000 spectators a day to feed during the Games. Then consider the meals prepared at area restaurants; privately catered parties for sponsors and foreign delegations; as well as the gourmet dinners prepared at the Cultural Olympiad's "Art of the Table." The Games are a formidable feast.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee estimates it will serve about 155,000 meals a day during 17 days, or 2.6 million meals. That is akin to inviting the entire population of Kansas over for dinner.

The Olympic grocery list for everyone from athletes to volunteers boggles the mind:

- 1 million eggs;

- 130,000 pounds of chili;

- 82,000 pounds of shrimp;

- 80,000 steaks;

- 50,000 pounds of bananas;

- 15,000 pounds of rice.

"Food is a huge part of the Olympics that people don't think about," said Tim Hackworth, vice president of marketing at Sysco Intermountain Food Services, the company that will supply food to the Athletes Village at the University of Utah and venues. "It's a huge part of any party."

Spectators are by far the largest group to feed. While the usual popcorn and pizza will be on hand, SLOC has cooked up concessions it hopes will be as memorable as the events.

The top dog comes from the Fred Usinger Sausage Co. in Milwaukee. The company, which has made German-style sausages since the 1800s, was picked as the official hot-dog supplier of the Games. Using fresh ingredients and a special smoking procedure, Usinger produces more than 70 products, from beerwurst to a yachtwurst, nationwide.

The company worked with official Games supplier Certified Angus Beef, a program that involves ranchers, breeders and processors of top-level Angus cattle, to create a frankfurter to be sold at the venues.

The gourmet dog is "long enough to fill the bun and then some," said John Gabe, the company's vice president for sales and marketing. And it does not shrink when cooked, he said.

About 1 million of the frankfurters, at $5 a piece, are expected to be eaten during the Games.

In addition to the hot dogs, there will be other items that make consumers think of their surroundings, like Wild West chili, barbecue beef and hot cocoa with twists of whipped cream.

From mashed potatoes to fermented cabbage, athletes can expect a culturally diverse menu while staying at the Village.

"Quite simply, we represent all food groups all the time," said Pritchard, who worked with nutritionists from 80 countries to create the Village's menu. The most popular items are fresh fruits and vegetables, pastas and bread.

The variety and convenience of the food is a big change from past Olympics, where food options were often lacking, officials said.

At the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France, McDonald's airlifted hamburgers to U.S. athletes who were reportedly homesick for the taste of American food. Ever since, McDonald's has set up shop at the Olympics. The hamburger franchise inside the Athletes Village is expected to serve more than 4,000 hamburgers each day.

Bonnie Blair, who has won five Olympic gold medals in speedskating, said besides being a necessity for success, food was a motivator at her first Games in 1992 in Albertville, France.

"I was hoping that I would skate well so I could get invited to corporate dinners where I could get a good meal," she said.

There are kitchens, pantries and microwaves popping up in the strangest places. Staff and volunteers won't be meeting and greeting visitors on empty stomachs.

About 30,000 meals will be served each day to volunteers. Depending on where volunteers are stationed, they could get a sit-down dinner in a cafeteria and enjoy lasagna, chili or roast beef. "We are going after the carbs and energy-type foods" that will stick with them during their long shifts, said Pritchard.

There also will be food-to-go. SLOC has developed mountain food packs that fit in each volunteer's official jacket. The lunch pack contains a sandwich and a 10 1/2-ounce container of Campbell's soup.

"In all kinds of remote locations - behind trees, in tents - we have microwaves, powered by generators, so that the volunteer can pop in and get a hot bowl of soup," said Pritchard.

Since they are the ones reporting back home both the good news - and the bad - it is especially important that journalists get the food they want, when they want it.

"We want to make sure they are well taken care of," Pritchard said.

The Main Media Center offers journalists a chance to get everything from a quick sandwich or cappuccino to a fine-dining experience at an Italian restaurant.

Throughout the Games, some of the country's top chefs will be preparing world-class meals for select diners at Abravanel Hall. "The Art of the Table" events are part of the Cultural Olympiad and will include nearly 50 chefs previously honored by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

It is the first Olympics in which such a dinner program has been offered, and corporate sponsors have gobbled up most of the tickets. The dinners have been opened to the public on certain evenings for an admission price of $5,000 for a table of eight.

Only a handful of Utah restaurants have been rented out to national delegations and sponsors of the Games. Most establishments say they will have tables if residents want to dine - with reservations.

Companies have been creating "Olympic-themed" food to get you in the spirit. Kellogg's, for example, has a new limited-edition strawberry Pop Tart decorated with stars. And Olympic champion Blair has teamed up with Betty Crocker for "Dinner and the Games," a program that encourages family dinners. Recipes and information on family activities related to the Olympics are available at www.bettycrocker.com.

"I specifically remember the Olympic Games in 1980, sitting around watching it with my family," said Blair, who has made a temporary home in Salt Lake City with her husband and two children. "It's something I have great memories of and want to keep it going with my own family."

Some sites featuring Olympic coverage:

OFFICIAL SITES:

For U.S. audience: http://nbcolympics.com

For international audience: http://olympics.com

International Olympic Committee: http://olympic.org

U.S. Olympic Committee: http://www.usolympicteam.com

OTHER NEWS SITES:

ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/winter02/index

CBS Sportsline: http://www.sportsline.com/u/olympics/2002

CNN Sports Illustrated: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/2002

Yahoo!: http://sports.yahoo.com/oly

The Associated Press: http://wire.ap.org

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/olympics/index.html

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/olympics/saltlake/front.htm

The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/sports/olympics

Los Angeles Times: http://latimes.com/sports/olympics

The Salt Lake Tribune: http://www.sltrib2002.com/main

British Broadcasting Corp.: http://www.bbc.co.uk/winterolympics

Canadian Broadcasting Co.: http://www.cbc.ca/olympics