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What's Cooking at the Olympics?

Oh, about a million meals to suit athletes of all sizes and nutritional persuasions

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AS Jerry Lee Lewis might put it, there's a whole lotta eatin' goin' on at the Barcelona Olympics. And much of it is happening in the Olympic Village, where 15,000 people reside, including more than 10,000 athletes with appetites and diets as varied as their physiques - from featherweight female gymnasts to heavyweight boxers.

Feeding them all requires keeping the huge dining hall open around the clock to accommodate athletes on different training and competition schedules. (Some like predawn breakfasts to allow for "proper digestion" before competitions, for example.)

To fill so many mouths also means preparing mountainous quantities of food daily: three tractor-trailer-loads of fresh fruit, 2,200 pounds of assorted pasta, and 40,000 slices of fresh bread, baked only a block or so away.

Lest supplies run low, 40 acres of dry storage sit on two levels below the cafeteria in what will become a parking garage after the Olympics. Three well-stocked refrigeration units make for a plentiful frozen inventory. ARA Services Inc. of Philadelphia, the official food-service manager, estimates that 1 million meals will be served to athletes - 2.5 million if you add coaches, security staff, volunteers, and others.

Informal exit polls indicate a high approval rating for the quality of the offerings, too.

"I have received only congratulations for the food," says Armand Calvo, Village director. "The only complaint has come from the Spanish crown prince Felipe [on Spain's yachting team]. When asked about the food, he said the problem is he is going to become fat."

To make sure of a smooth operation, the Barcelona Olympic Organizing Committee (COOB) hired ARA to oversee the food service in conjunction with Comeco, a Spanish contractor responsible for the meals and concessions at 42 sites for officials, press, spectators, and athletes.

ARA Services was engaged because it enjoys a wealth of previous Olympic experience, having managed the dining facilities at four other summer Games, as well as at three Winter Olympics.

John Scanlan, ARA vice president and project manager for the Barcelona Olympics, says that the company works with team trainers in advance "so that all nutritional and taste requirements are met. But we know that there are surprises."

One of them here has been the amount of white rice consumed. "We've had to up the production," says Ed Nelson, ARA's operations liaison at the Olympic Village. "We had no idea the athletes would eat so much." He doesn't know the exact figures, but he says the kitchen team responsible for preparing the rice is working constantly, unusual in a high-volume kitchen.

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