How do you feed a World Cup-level sports team? Vancouver Island man knows

Jade Berg was hired as part of a pilot project for Team Canada Luge. Photo by Brooke Abchrum
Campbell River's chef, Jade Berg, has been hired as a chef for the Canadian National Log team.  Photo by Brooke AbchrumCampbell River’s chef, Jade Berg, has been hired as a chef for the Canadian National Log team. Photo by Brooke Abchrum
Campbell River chef Jade Berg prepares a meal for the Canadian Log team.  Photo by Brooke AbchrumCampbell River chef Jade Berg prepares a meal for the Canadian Log team. Photo by Brooke Abchrum
Campbell River chef Jade Berg poses with team luge in Whistler, British Columbia. Photo by Jade BergCampbell River chef Jade Berg poses with team luge in Whistler, British Columbia. Photo by Jade Berg

Campbell River chef Jed Berg thought when he answered a call from the Canadian Luge team to be their chef, this would be just another job.

However, it turns out to be much more than that.

“I looked at the schedule and thought… I’ve never been to Europe. It would be nice if you could go and check out the markets there. Yeah, I jumped on board,” Berg said. “It was just a party at the beginning… This was the first sad party to leave.”

Berg is a private chef who usually does private cooking, classes and events. His specialty is forage and other wild foods.

However, Berg’s mission with the luge team has been to change the way they look at nutrition.

At the elite level, what an athlete eats is just as important as how they train. The food they put into their bodies is the fuel needed to perform at a high level.

This is where Berg comes in.

His role was to ensure that the food these athletes consumed was actually good for them. The best way to do this is through consistency.

“It’s a lot more physical than I thought, burning about 400 calories to 540,550 calories per hour sliding session,” he said.

“In these foreign countries where the food may not be so familiar… so a lot of times these athletes don’t have time to get proper nutrition… A lot of these athletes drop weight, which would be fine in any other sport.

“But for this like they need to keep their weight levels up to a certain point. Weight is how they gain speed down the hill.

“Losing weight while on tour was a really big disservice to the organization before I came on board.”

He said that once a week he would host the whole team for a family-style meal with food he had bought especially for the occasion. This gave the team a different dynamic as well, as instead of spending their days resting in their hotel rooms, they actually got to socialize and even strategize about upcoming competitions.

“We really tried to make it fun, too. If eating isn’t fun and the food isn’t tasty, it makes it very difficult to force yourself to eat.”

“Once a week we’d have a nice dinner, and I’d have a chance… flex my culinary muscles a bit… They’d have a chance to try a whole different side of the food they’d previously eaten on the road.”

“(The team’s) relationship with food has changed a lot,” he said. “Eating time was something we looked forward to. It wasn’t something like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to go to the buffet and wonder what kind of meat they have today.'”

This opportunity was a pilot project, and Berg said other teams have expressed interest in doing something similar.

Sports organizations operate on a tight budget, and Berg said that by bringing in a chef for the team, they can save money on food costs.

“They operate on such shoestring budgets,” he said.

“Food is so expensive… That was a huge expense in the past; even eating out. We’re talking about ways to reach out to Canadian food suppliers or producers and how we can provide some food for these athletes during the downturn.”

“Being able to try and get a little bit of weight off their shoulders would be nice.”

Although it was just an experimental project, Berg said it was successful enough that the athletes actually saw a difference.

Berg has been with the team for three stops on the World Cup circuit, which he says gave them a chance to compare what it was like with him to what it was like without him.

“They can do the first three stops of a World Cup tour with a chef and then the last two without him and that gives them some contrast,” he said. ‘I’m already getting messages. One of the athletes texted me last night (saying) ‘We really miss you.’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah. How’s the food?’ They are not sure. The meat they serve is questionable.”

There are already plans to bring him in next year for the entire season. Although Berg himself won’t be able to feed multiple teams at once, he hopes the idea catches on and other Canadian chefs and food producers meet the athletes.

Prior to this season, Berg was as big a fan of the skates as anyone.

He primarily cheered for the Canadian team during the Olympics, but he didn’t think much of the sport in other years.

Now, though, he’s a fan. Berg even got his family involved.

Another bonus for Berg was the ability to shop and cook at outdoor markets. Imagine an Anthony Bourdain-esque project through the food markets of Riga, Latvia and it would be pretty close.

“I went to Riga, the capital of Latvia one day to go for a walk in the old market there. The supermarkets in Riga are just phenomenal,” he said. “We look at food in very different ways here in North America.

“Everything gets packaged up and the individual muscle pieces are bundled up and rolled up. There’s like a whole pig’s head cut in half. The salmon is hanging and there’s the duck getting old. It was a really cool experience.”

Usually, berg gigs are a one-off. He goes and cooks for a customer, has a great time and then goes home.

This time, he really feels like he was part of the team.

“They went out of their way to go and buy me a nice little token of their appreciation and they all signed a bib,” he said.

“We were at the airport all hugging each other and leaving. We were all crying where… yeah, I never have that with any client I cook for.”

Campbell River Foodsports