June 14, 2010 / 2:07 PM / 9 years ago

South African chefs cater to players' every whim

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Chef Geoffrey Murray can barely whip baguettes out of his oven fast enough since the French World Cup team set up camp at his hotel.

General view of one of the entrances of the Pezula resort at Knysna, near Cape Town June 7, 2010. France's national soccer team is staying in the hotel. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Croissants, crepes and batches of brioche are also in hot demand at the chic Pezula Resort Hotel and Spa in coastal Knysna as staff pull out all the stops to cater for their pampered thoroughbreds.

“We were doing 10 baguettes and then it got up to 80 or 90 and now it seems to be up to about 120 per day,” said Murray, head chef at the luxury hotel the French are calling home.

“The baker is just over the moon.”

The Uruguayans packed a tonne of prime grass-fed beef from home, as well as plenty of dulce de leche — a creamy, caramel spread ubiquitous to breakfast tables and deserts in much of South America, said team spokesman Matias Faral.

Argentina’s coach Diego Maradona was not so lucky.

Agriculture officials put a stop to his team’s plans to bring in steak supplies from home, said Linda Tyrrell, chef at the University of Pretoria center where the Argentines are staying.

“They never got a permit to bring the beef in. They wanted to, but it was declined,” she said, adding that the flamboyant Argentine coach had failed to live up to his diva reputation so far.

“He’s been very nice ... what he wants we get him and we’ve got no problems.”

Typical South African snacks like biltong — a shredded, dried beef — are not to everyone’s taste, and many teams have flown in players’ favorite nibbles to help cure homesickness during the long weeks of sporting competition.

In Rustenburg, Wayne Rooney and the England squad are having their meals overseen by celebrity chef Tim De’Ath, who has previously been personal caterer to Hollywood stars including Leonardo DiCaprio.

De’Ath describes the English players as “race horses” who need to be properly fed to perform their best, but he has been livening up their healthy diet with afternoon snacks like mini hot chocolates.

Mexico’s squad have had to wait in line for their beloved tortillas as one local supplier gives priority to his regular customers, the team’s spokesman said.

The only one who cooks for the Brazilian players is squad chef Jaime Maciel, who stocked up on plenty of guava paste at home for those with a sweet tooth.

World champions Italy have made their base a real home from home thanks to a plentiful supply of pizza, pasta and prosecco — served by Italian barmen flown over specially.

Some more adventurous World Cup players are also embracing local delicacies.

The Pezula’s head chef Murray said some French players had tried a traditional South African dinner of impala meat at the weekend.

“They were quite impressed with it in the end,” he said.

Additional reporting by Angus MacSwan, Javier Leira and Pedro Fonseca; editing by Ossian Shine

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