There’s a certain perception of Premier League footballers and their diet. It’s the image of the superhuman-sized man, crushing a quaking chair and powering through a mountain of boiled meat, pasta and more boiled meat.
But head to Crystal Palace’s training ground and you’ll find something different. With a Michelin Star experienced Head Chef designing their meals, superhuman-sized Palace players still crush quaking chairs to eat mountains of food – but it’s packed with chia seeds, aniseed and other vegan options.
“I like to be creative,” says Julien Maisonneuve, the man responsible for feeding every player, each member of training staff and more than 2,000 guests on normal matchdays.
“We know they need to have a certain amount of protein per meal. Males with normal activity will need 3,200 calories a day. They need more like 5,500-6,000 calories.
“Because we cook in no fat, no butter, no cream, we don’t bring extra fat to anything. If you use chia seeds, for example, that brings the calories and protein up.
“Plant-based is very big at the moment – all of January I did plant-based [options] for them and for my family as well. There’s a lot we can take in terms of protein and energy from that.
“All breakfasts are plant-based apart from eggs, which they need to have. We do overnight porridge with our own compote of fruit which is not sugary, it’s very healthy. We do a lot of chia seeds, new grains, aniseed, things that are rich in protein and omega.
“Recently we did chocolate mousse, but with no cream, no butter. It was different but they loved it. I love pushing plant-based food and nutrition to the next level.
“Some of the players are really loving it and it’s great to see that – there is the demand for it. It’s just a question of explaining what it does to their body; it’s very good for recovery, for example.”
Such is the attention to detail given to the Palace squad’s meals that it follows them around the country. Revealing how the club monitors diets from Croydon when the players are in Newcastle, for example, Julien says: “We have a ‘bible’ we send to the hotel [in advance] – they have strict regulations on what they can have pre-match.
“We have a strict menu. So, if we need to have chicken, we say: ‘It needs to be this chicken, make sure there’s no fat etc.’ It’s a bible for the chefs, so whoever has that can prep what we need… Post-match is cooked by us, placed onto the bus and then once they come back they take their meals.”
But Julien’s job extends beyond the players and means he and his 12 full-time chefs are responsible for every meal the club serves.
It would be easy, then, to go for the burger van option – stack it high and cook it quick – but Julien’s passion for food and background in fine dining produces a cultivated menu from the first-team, through the Academy, and for staff and guests in Premium lounges alike.
“Everything is fresh,” he explains. “One day we had cod arrive at 11am. At 11:30 it was prepped and 12:00 it was served. That was a bit tight, to be honest! We try to work with the best, the freshest.
“But the menus are not really up to me – the way I work is based on the supplier. On a Friday, I call my fish guy, my fruit, veg and cheese guys, and they tell me what’s in season and what’s good in quality and value for money [that week].
“Based on those ingredients, I do my menu. The suppliers tell me what they have and, as a chef, I have to work with that. It’s the best way possible – they know what’s in season, which means the quality and price is good.
“It’s important as a chef to understand that you don’t cook for yourself. You do that at home. I listen to the fans and they guide me on what they want to eat. If you listen to them, they feel very privileged. I try to be close to everybody – I try to go to all restaurants, speak to everybody and see what they think of the meals.
“Supporting local suppliers, British suppliers, working with them and working with what’s in season to do everything we can for the economy and sustainability is very important to me.”
At the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic is restricting Julien and his staff on what they can do. Limited to just one kitchen for multiple sites, fewer than half the chefs available and with no fans to feed, cooking for Crystal Palace is now a vastly different job.
But Julien hasn’t lost his appetite. “My background is mainly Michelin Star so I love doing Premium stuff,” he says.
“At the moment, that can’t happen and we need to look after the players as a priority. But we can’t wait to have the stadium open, that’s for sure.”
Julien and his team prepare and serve meals in Selhurst’s Premium Lounges every home match. Find out more and register your interest in Selhurst’s Premium experiences by clicking here.