When the 2002 party hits Utah, the pantry had better be full. The Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee will provide more than 2.2 million meals — the equivalent of feeding the entire country of Kuwait, according to Dave Lucas, the food-services manager for the 2002 Olympic Athlete Village.

An estimated 135,000 meals will be served daily to 3,500 athletes and team officials, members of the International Olympic Committee and the 85 or so committees of participating nations, the armies of volunteers and security personnel and the mass of news crews that will descend on the state. That also includes gourmet delights to impress the guests of corporations who spent big bucks to become sponsors.

And within 60 hours after the closing of the Olympic Village, the Paralympic Village must be open for the 1,600 athletes and team officials participating, said Lucas.

Clearly this is a bigger job than, say, planning your average family reunion.

But Don Pritchard, SLOC's director of food services, has help. The official catering services supplier for the 2002 Games is Compass, a food-service provider from the United Kingdom with North American headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. About 60 of the country's top chefs will volunteer in the kitchens — something that's never been done before at an Olympics, Pritchard said.

"We wanted to make sure that the Games are memorable from every aspect and to try to do things that will keep them fun and exciting," Pritchard said. "Each country that hosts the Games has done it differently because they have different logistics. In Nagano, it was over two hours to get to a venue, and in the Japanese culture, you don't eat at a venue during the events. In Sydney, it was venue-based, and they did a very nice job of providing some small cafe concepts for guests who didn't want to be hurried."

Also, Pritchard said, the local restaurant community will contribute to the unique flavor of the Games.

"We're counting on them to be creative but keep things simple, to try not to do things they can't produce in volume or consistent quality."

ATHLETES: The athletes will be fueled in the Olympic Village at the University of Utah, which will be open 18 hours a day. There's also a temporary facility planned to seat 650, which will be open 24 hours a day, Lucas said. The menus will be rotated on a 10-day cycle, with an emphasis on cultural diversity to suit all the different participants, said Lucas. And McDonald's will have a spot in the Olympic Village, he said.

Whenever possible, hot-meal service will be provided at the venues, Lucas said.

"Traditionally in the Olympics, the team turns in an order for 80 box meals to take with them to eat whenever they get a chance," Lucas said. "We are offering a cafe service, and we want to have interactive buffets, with chefs behind the line making waffles, tossing pasta and carving pork and beef. These will be supplemented by box meals."

Hot meals were important to some athletes participating in the World Cup Biathlon held in Soldier Hollow in March. The Homestead Resort in Midway served in its dining room 200-300 athletes and officials — some of whom will be back in Utah for the Olympics.

Several Hungarian and Austrian athletes said the vegetarian pizza, pasta and other buffet offerings were good but not hot enough. "We like our hot foods very hot, and the bread here is too soft," said Daniel Mesotitsch, an Austrian athlete. He said Austrians prefer the dense, chewy breads like pumpernickel.

But Austria's Wolfgang Rotthann — last year's biathlon world champion in Oslo — joked that soft bread is an advantage. "American food is very good, you don't have to bite it so often. You can just inhale it."

Gerhardt Brutscher, an Austrian team physician, said the athletes' main needs are "vegetables, fruit, noodles and bread. They eat meat only once a day. Also, because of the altitude, you need to drink more than normal."

U.S. team member David Gieck said The Homestead's cuisine met the the world-class standards of other competition sites.

"Biathlon is very popular around the world," he said. "So they put us up in the best places, and we're used to extremely high-quality foods. The Homestead has accommodated that. It's not above and beyond what these athletes are used to, but they've catered to us very well."

Eating consistently is important during competition, Gieck said. "If you're eating different foods, not with the right carbs and proteins, it changes your performance. But we've gone to some Eastern bloc countries that truly don't have the money to feed us the same way. In Russia, they gave the American team better food than the Russian team, to impress the athletes. I felt bad because I don't want to be treated better than anyone else, and they were trying to maintain that for us at the expensive of the other athletes."

The Homestead has submitted a bid to SLOC to supply meals during the 2002 Games, but the bid process isn't completed yet, said Jennifer Kohler, the resort's marketing assistant.

SPECTATORS AND SPONSORS: The goal is "seamless" food service — offering the same products and quality control at every venue, so spectators know what to expect. In past Olympics, the number of different suppliers caused some concern over quality and safety, Lucas said.

Volunteers won't be subjected to box lunches every day as in past Olympics. Staff cafes will offer a daily hot entree, as well as the "Frontier Frankfurter," and "Wild West Chili," both made with Certified Angus Beef, which is a supplier for the Games. Since Coca-Cola is a sponsor, you can bet Pepsi won't be served.

As sponsors and suppliers donate their food products, it's up to Pritchard's team to come up with ways to incorporate them in menus. Gamesgoers will also see sesame-glazed walnuts from Diamond of California, as well as products from Brown-Forman (Korbel Champagne and Fetzer Wine), the Kellogg Co., PowerBar and Smith's Dairy, which are all suppliers, according to a SLOC spokesman.

THE JAMES BEARD CHEFS: While the athletes are fueling on carbs and spectators and volunteers are downing Wild West Chili, guests of corporate sponsors will be dazzled with sophisticated fare like pistachio-crusted goat cheese nuggets or dried Vella Monterey Jack cheese shaped into mini-cornucopias and stuffed with smoked buffalo carpaccio and green tomato corn salsa.

Need more "wow!" factor? Well, how about rib-eye steak with pureed truffles and taro root, or a three-cheese polenta tart and wild mushroom strudel?

These were some of the creations served at the One Year Out party in February at Park City Mountain Resort, sort of a dress rehearsal for next year's hospitality in corporate sponsor pavilions. Three local chefs — David Jones of Log Haven, Mickey McPhail of Stein Eriksen Lodge and Scott Blackerby of Bambara — strutted their culinary stuff alongside big-name New York chefs Douglas Rodriguez of Chicama, Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit and Francois Payard of the Payard Patisserie and Bistro.

The New Yorkers were invited through the James Beard Foundation, a group that promotes culinary endeavors and sponsors awards for chefs and restaurants. Last year, Pritchard asked the foundation to help recruit celebrity chefs to volunteer, and many have stepped up to the plate.

"There will be a lot of entertainment going on during the Olympics, and food is a big part of it," said Jones at the One Year Out party. "It's a pretty nice honor to be invited to do this function."

Samuelsson, who won the James Beard Foundation's "Best Rising Star Chef" award in 1999, said he wants to come back in 2002. "How often does an Ethiopian kid from Sweden get to cook for the Olympics?" said Samuelsson, who was orphaned as a child in Ethiopia, then adopted by a Swedish couple. "This is a real privilege, and when an organization like James Beard Foundation asks you, you don't turn it down."

The chefs won't just cook for the high-end affairs; some will feed the athletes and the masses of spectators. Many folks probably won't be interested in the fancy stuff anyway, Jones suspects.

"A lot of the people from out of the United States will be way into the cowboy feeds and whatnot," he said.

But many chefs have gained reputations for being temperamental. Isn't throwing a bunch of them in the same pot together a recipe for disaster?

"Chefs are artistic and eclectic by design," acknowledged Pritchard. "But they also realize that we're all in it for a cause that's bigger than all of us. And if there are problems, we do have a backup plan."


E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com