Chickpeas with smoked beetroot; green lentils with yoghurt and coriander, and muesli with quinoa. These are some of the dishes being served by three award-winning chefs in charge of overseeing the French food being served to athletes during the Olympic Games in Paris next summer.
“When there are 40,000 meals per day, I don't want anyone to be let down. I want people who eat kosher to eat with me, people who eat halal, the Christians and Buddhists, too,” said Michelin-lauded chef Akrame Benallal. “It's vegetables that unite everyone.”
French dishes have always been more meat-heavy, with people in the country consuming nearly double the global average of meat annually, at 113kg a year, according to Our World in Data. Yet, recently, France is weaning itself off meat for environmental reasons, as evident by the top chefs for the 2024 Olympic Games, who are emphasising a more vegetarian approach.
Chef Benallal, for instance, serves steak and other meat in his restaurants, but his flagship dish for the Olympics will be muesli with quinoa. Former professional basketball player Alexandre Mazzia, meanwhile, will offer recipes that take in chickpeas, peas and smoked beetroot, plus smoked fish with chard.
The chefs are working with food services company Sodexo Live!, which has made a reduced carbon footprint and less animal protein in menus its objectives.
It claims that a third of the protein across its 500 dishes will come from vegetables, and one of its signature dishes will be a dal, made with green lentils from the Paris region with skyr (a type of yoghurt), coriander and corn oil.
“Historically, there are no famous French dishes that don't include meat. To say 'Let's do some French cuisine but cut out the meat' is a major turnaround,” food historian Loic Bienassis, who believes the Olympics could mark a turning point, told AFP.
This is not say there won't still be plenty of meat in the Olympic Village, as vegetables alone cannot meet all the needs of professional sportspeople, according to Helene Defrance, a medal-winning sailor and nutritionist who is on the athletes' commission for 2024.
“Vegetarianism is a big trend, but it's not something that we can impose on everyone,” she said, adding that pulses can be hard to digest and not everyone converts plant proteins effectively.
Accordingly, the last of the three top French chefs is Amandine Chaignot, who has chosen guinea fowl with crayfish as her signature meal.
“Clearly, when we think of traditional French cuisine, we think more of steak au poivre than quinoa risotto,” she said, joking.
However, Mazzia says the food is more for celebrating after the competition than during the build-up, when athletes will follow their own strict dietary regimes.
“I'm interested in everything related to kilocalories and the like, but that's not what I'm here for,” he said.
“The important thing during the Games is to stop and take a moment to enjoy something totally different. I hope the athletes come to celebrate their medal victories with me.”
Agencies contributed to this report