Owen Blandy of Team EF Education-EasyPost (Photo: Will Tracy)

A Day in the Life of a Tour de France Team Chef

Owen Blandy, the chef for team EF Education–EasyPost, preps and cooks for 16 hours each day to feed hungry cyclists at the world’s biggest bike race

Will Tracy
Jim Cotton

from Velo

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Feeding cyclists at the Tour de France involves a lot more skill than a fine palette and five-star cheffing skills. It requires master planning, fast thinking, and the endurance to survive 16-hour workdays for three consecutive weeks.

Owen Blandy, the team chef for U.S. squad EF Education–EasyPost, recently gave Velo a view of his job during the Tour, where he prepares meals for star riders like Neilson Powless, Rigoberto Uran, and Magnus Cort. His job is not easy, and he works long days to create culinary excellence inside a mobile food truck with temperamental water and electric hookups.

“The days are long, they’re testing, but it’s so much more rewarding than working in a restaurant. I have complete control over what I cook, and how I cook it,” Blandy told Velo in Bilbao, Spain, from outside his team hotel. “I see the world and do what I love. And I get to keep riders like Rigo and Magnus happy with what I serve … Life could be a lot worse.”

Inside a WorldTour Food Truck

When the fridge is small, it’s got to be well packed. (Photo: Will Tracy)

Cooking out of a food truck means Blandy is guaranteed a space that’s clean, hygienic, and away from the bustle of a busy hotel service. His workspace is a purpose-built 225-square-foot space that would fit into the tech-heavy kitchens of Michelin-star chefs five-times over. The Britain-born cook serves multicolor salads, grilled meats, and sweet treats from a six-ring gas range, box-size oven, and store cupboards that are packed to endure journeys over hors-categorie climbs and switchback descents.

There’s barely room to swing an omelet pan, but Blandy makes the most from his humble HQ.

“It’s simple, but it’s got basically everything I could want, and it’s not too big. It’s not difficult to clean and look after, and it’s nice to have everything at reach,” he said. “It would be nice to have bigger, but I don’t really need it.”

Also read: Fueling the Tour de France: Inside a Rider’s Gut-Buster Diet

Organization is paramount in a kitchen smaller than that found in most family homes.

Blandy showed Velo a small fridge packed out with the bare essentials, a so-called “carb dungeon” of rice packets that’s jigsaw-stacked beneath the counter, and a coffee machine carefully wedged into a convenient recess.

“It’s amazing all these pans stay on their hooks when I’m driving down a mountain,” Blandy said, pointing out a row of metalware hanging from a rail above the range.

“They make a lot of noise, but they don’t go anywhere,” he joked.

Cook, Drive, Repeat

Blandy’s bag full of packets of rice is known as “the carb dungeon.” (Photo: Will Tracy)

Blandy’s kitchen setup is simple. And that’s probably a good thing when the rest of his day is pretty complex.

The 36-year-old spends Tour de France-month in a cheffing endurance test of prepping, cooking, driving, cleaning, and planning.

Blandy only caters for EF’s riders—team staff eat from the hotel kitchen—but serving racers that require up to 8,000 calories a day is exhausting enough as it is.

“I’ve got to do five or six different restaurant jobs in one. I to do the washing up, preparing, the driving, the ordering … and I do the service as well,” he said with a wry smile.

Team chefs are up there with mechanics in pulling some of the longest hours of the entire Tour de France circus.

Blandy is awake preparing his breakfast service far before his colleagues are making final tweaks to race bikes. And he’s still at his truck cleaning down after dinner when mechanics are stripping out groupsets ahead of the day’s next stage.

“The only real bit of downtime I get is driving from the start to the finish of each stage. That’s my time to reflect and plan. And I have to make the most of that time because when I arrive at the next hotel it can be busy,” he said.

“When I arrive, I immediately speak to the hotel to sort out the gas, electric, and water hookups, and unpack everything. Then almost straight away I start cooking and preparing for dinner, or pre-preparing for breakfasts for the next day.”

Admin and logistics are as much a part of Blandy’s daily life as chopping, sauteeing, and serving.

“I’m always having to think one day ahead, at least. I email hotels in advance to request the fresh produce I’ll need, and to organize cutlery and plates,” he said.

“With the fresh produce, you always need a Plan A and a Plan B though. I always go shopping myself in case I turn up at a hotel, and they give me nothing. Or sometimes I’ve been in hotels where I’ve walked into the fridge, taken a look at the ingredients, and just walked straight out. It’s just not worth risking poor quality or outdated food.”

Fuel and Flavor

Blandy emails hotels with requests for the fresh ingredients he can’t carry—but never leaves it to chance. (Photo: Will Tracy)

Not long ago, riders fueled their Tours de France with over-cooked pasta and tough chicken breast. But just like the era of nine-speed groupsets and hefty aluminum frames, those days are very much resigned to history.

Blandy spoke to Velo shortly after he’d served his multi-national team a pre-grand départ lunch that included carrot soup, couscous with chimichurri dressing, albacore tuna, and a whole lot more.

“I’m always trying to tick the boxes of flavor, nutrition, color, and presentability,” he said. “As long as I get those elements, it works. I find if I follow a Mediterranean-style of cooking – fresh vegetables, herbs, tomatoes, really nice pasta – the guys are generally happy.”

While the riders are not fussy, Blandy is challenged by keeping meals interesting for riders whose potential is powered by what’s on their plates.

Blandy’s Tour de France week 1 meal plan is a mouthwatering master map that plots peach and halloumi salads, sweet potato wedges, beef filet tagliatelles, Japanese mushrooms, and chia protein puddings into a schedule that keeps riders satiated and savoring more.

“I have to serve those carbs every day, the rice and pasta. So I try to get the variety and mixtures with the soups and desserts,” he said.

“Sometimes, things as simple as different colors keep riders interested and wanting to eat. Soups, smoothies, juices, deserts – they’re the elements you can tinker with. I keep the fundamentals like carbs simple, but bring variety with the rest.”

Career Change

(Photo: Will Tracy)

Blandy has already followed his EF Education-EasyPost crew through the majority of the WorldTour calendar in a relentless schedule that keeps him away from the comforts of home.

But after pivoting away from a career in finance in his early 30s to pursue his culinary passions, cooking carbs remains far more palatable than crunching numbers.

“I love traveling and seeing the world, and we see some of the most beautiful parts of Europe doing this,” he said.

“When I started the job, I had a romantic idea of visiting farmer’s markets and local bakeries, but there’s no time really. But the work is varied, challenging, and satisfying. And I just like looking after people – I like being there for the riders. It feels a privilege to cook for them.”

Blandy is cheffing his eighth-straight grand tour at this Tour de France. In that time, he’s become as crucial as the mechanics, masseuses, and soigneurs that keep EF Education–EasyPost moving.

“I didn’t enjoy working in restaurants because you often don’t get to see the end product and who you’re serving –  you’re stuck at the back,” he said. “With this, you interact with the riders, you feel their appreciation.”

Lead Photo: Will Tracy