Cooking Up a Storm: Can the 2024 Paris Olympics Serve 13 Million Meals Without Losing Its Soul?

Oh là là, mes amis, we’ve got a piping hot pot of controversy simmering on the Parisian stove, and it’s about to boil over. With the Paris 2024 Olympics sprinting our way, the City of Lights is gearing up to host the world, serving up an eye-watering 13 million meals. But here’s the multi million-euro question: Can we pull off this culinary marathon without turning the crème de la crème of French cuisine into fast food? Let’s carve into this feast, shall we?

The Gastronomic Games: A Recipe for Disaster or a Michelin Star-worthy Performance?

Tony Estanguet, Paris Olympics 2024 President, has stirred the pot by promising to showcase French cuisine’s “art de vivre.” But with giant catering companies like Sodexo on the front lines, some of us can’t help but wonder if we’re trading in our cherished bistros and brasseries for an Olympic-sized McBaguette. “Food is part of the French identity,” Estanguet says, and he’s not wrong. But as any self-respecting chef will tell you, mass-producing coq au vin by the thousands is a far cry from simmering it to perfection in your grandmother’s kitchen.

I understand that what most people will be eating during the Olympics is basically canteen food. How else can you cook for that many people at once? I experienced first hand Sodexo’s inability to manage a staff cantine when I worked at one of Paris’s premier tech startups Doctolib a few years ago. The horrific mess came to a head one day for me when I turned up for lunch at 12.15 to find nothing was ready and only be able to grab some salad and fries that the chefs had seemingly forgotten to cook. The fries made me ready to fetch a guillotine and start a new revolution. My collegues chuckled and said “You know it must be bad, when a brit is complaining about the food!”

An AI generated image of a While the Paris Olympic take place outside th

The Disneyfication of Paris: Serving Up Culture with a Side of Fries?

It’s the word on every Parisian’s lips: “Disneyfication.” The older, old school Parisians I know start to boil with rage at the thought of what is happening in Paris during this olympic fuelled mega gentrification. My grimy old chef colleagues and turtle neck, motorbike riding, father-in-law see this all not as an opportunity for Paris to showcase their expertise but a clear recipie for disaster. I know the french are good at complaining, but every media outlet in France seems to be in a clickbait hunting rage at every tiny mistake.

Are we about to see our beloved culinary heritage shrink-wrapped into a one-size-fits-all menu? Picture this: an American tourist bites into a “gourmet” sandwich at a stadium, exclaiming, “This is the best French cuisine I’ve ever had!” Meanwhile, a local chef weeps into his apron, mourning the loss of soul in Parisian cooking.

I have hope that the Paris olympics won’t be that bad. My french friends call it my anglo-saxon over enthusiasm. Whatever it is, I agree that the food at Disney sucks! I don’t want you to be eating what can only be described as over priced, under seasoned slop. I really do hope that Paris delivers a more sustainable, greener, local cuisine at the Olympic games.

A Pinch of Innovation, A Dash of Sustainability

Don’t get me wrong, the ambition behind Paris 2024’s Food Vision is as savoury as a well-aged Roquefort. More plant-based options, more local, more sustainable—these are ingredients for a revolutionary menu that could indeed redefine event catering. “More plant-based, more local, more sustainable, and just as delicious,” Estanguet assures us.

Despite needing my sunglasses, I have read through the whole Paris olympics food strategy document for the Paris Olympics. I am as much in awe as I am feeling intrepid. It is as perfect as my homemade baernaise sauce on rare barbecue steak.

The challenge, mes chers amis, is ensuring these dishes maintain the essence of French cuisine amidst the whirlwind of Olympic fever. The ingredients are all there but we have already seen the french farmers rise up in anger this year due to a lack of support. Lets hope that what you eat during the Paris olympics will be far better than what was sprayed over the government buildings in Paris in January.

Screen grab from the Paris Olympics Food Charter of the local produce available within 250km of the olympic venues.
Broke Brit in Paris's Logo - A Smiling face with a moustache and eyes in hearts with the french flag

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Will the Real Chefs Please Stand Up?

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Nearly 120 organisations and experts are tossing their hats into the ring, promising to sprinkle a touch of French culinary magic over the Games. But let’s be clear: crafting dish after dish that captures the soul of Parisian, and Fren cuisine requires more than a sprinkle—it demands the whole damn spice rack.

I’m squirming on the inside at how they will even manage to cook enough baguettes. The challenge of hiring, training all of those chefs to get it right on the day takes a level of expertise and discipline that can only be found in the best kitchens in Paris. I’m excited to see what taste of France they will offer to the millions of esteemed guests over those few weeks in August.

If you are a chef reading this and will be working on the olympics, I would love to hear from you! Please get in touch so we can help you tell your story to the world.

An AI Generated Image of a peacful french market full of chefs cooking for the paris olympics, with paris in the background and the olympi rings in the sky.

Serving Up Memories, One Bite at a Time

As any chef worth their fleur de sel will tell you, cooking is not just about filling bellies; it’s about stirring emotions and creating memories. “For spectators, food is part of what they expect from tourism and positive cultural experiences,” Estanguet notes.

With my Chef’s hat on though, I am not worried too much about the spectators, it’s the athletes that concern me.

98% of the athletes surveyed were “concerned” or “deeply concerned” about the social and environmental impact of their eating habits. French athletes were more likely to feel “deeply concerned” than their foreign counterparts (50% compared with 30%).

Appendix 2 of the Paris 2024 Food Vision Pitch Deck

If you thought chef’s were crazy about the food they eat, then you have never sat down with a world class athlete for lunch. The Paris Olympics is going to attract the toughest customers to the Parisian tables.

Final Thoughts: A Call to Culinary Arms

As we march towards 2024, Parisians should stop complaining and instead rally behind our chefs, artisans, and farmers, ensuring that every meal served during the Games is a love letter to French cuisine. Yes, it’s a Herculean task, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s the French. After all, they didn’t earn their culinary stripes by playing it safe.

Like many Parisians, you wont find me running Food Tours after the opening ceremony. The only sport I really enjoy is one that involves a fork . I will leave Paris and our flat to the sporty members of my family in favour of a quieter spot in Europe. From the comfort of my traditional August holiday I will however be watching with delight and reporting back from behind the scenes thanks to a great network of chefs that love to share the real story of what it’s like to eat like the french.

I believe that there will be many complaints about the terrible service, tasteless food and miserable queues. Finding something good and cheap to eat will become a real challenge. I will be writing some guides in the run up to the games to help you navigate the culinary minefields of Paris. I will also be rising my glass to those fearless chefs cooking up a storm and showing the world that even in the face of the Olympic Games, Paris can still serve up a meal that’s worth its weight in gold (medals).

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