POTCHEFSTROOM, South Africa (Reuters Life!) - If South African chef Gideon Joubert has his way, generous helpings of Spanish cuisine will be served up in Potchefstroom long after the European champions’ World Cup squad have departed.
Joubert is in charge of the kitchen at the new Sports Village at North West University where Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas and their teammates are staying and has been learning the secrets of Spanish cooking from the two chefs who travel with the squad and are responsible for keeping them fed.
The 30-year-old, who cut his teeth among the pots and pans of his grandmother’s kitchen in his native Lichtenburg, says the emphasis placed on the freshness of ingredients is what has stood out most.
“This has been a mind-opening experience and has broadened our horizons about the way food is prepared,” Joubert told Reuters on Thursday.
“The flavors are simple, yet delicious, and the freshness of the food is mouthwatering,” he added.
“I’m sad I’ll only get six weeks. I would have been happier with four months.”
When the Sports Village restaurant opens to the public after the World Cup, Joubert says he’ll be applying what he has picked up from Xabier Arbizu, the Basque chef who is cooking for the squad for the fifth time at a World Cup.
“We want to implement most of the stuff we have learnt and give it a bit of the Spanish heritage,” he said, sitting in the sunshine at a cafe near the Sports Village.
“South African (food) culture is very open to outside influences,” he added, mentioning Indian and Japanese cuisine. “Now we’re adding Spanish to the mix as well.”
While the food they have been churning out is of the highest quality, Joubert also admits to feeling slightly sorry for the players, whose diet is strictly controlled by the team doctors.
Because he doesn’t speak Spanish, Joubert has to use an interpreter in the heat of the kitchen and was presented with a menu for the players only the day before they arrived, prompting a slightly chaotic first few days.
He has been spending a good deal of time sourcing ingredients from local suppliers that are fresh enough to satisfy the exacting standards of the Spanish chefs and doctors.
Breakfast, between 8.45 a.m. and 11 a.m., typically consists of scrambled eggs and toast, five different cereals, yoghurt and fresh fruit.
The Spanish players eat Coco Pops by the kilo and Nesquik chocolate milk is also a huge favorite, Joubert said.
For lunch and dinner, chicken, fish and various cuts of beef are served up, along with salads and pasta and rice, but only with very simple, tomato-based sauces. Cream is strictly outlawed.
“The doctor just says no and I feel sorry for them but I understand why,” Joubert told Reuters.
Kitchens are often volatile places to work and Joubert said he has had one or two heated exchanges with Arbizu.
“We have had a few moments but it’s just down to the passion we both have for the job,” Joubert said. “All in all it’s been loads of fun.”
Spain’s tournament got off to the worst possible start with a defeat against Switzerland on Wednesday, raising the possibility that Joubert’s crash course in Spanish cooking could be shorter than anticipated.
The atmosphere was quiet at breakfast on Thursday, he said, before offering some words of consolation for the pre-tournament favorites:
“Even giants have to bend their knee and get up again.”
Editing by Ossian Shine and Paul Casciato