Jon Cox is one of three chefs who serve up nutritious, delicious and top-quality grub to the likes of Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Filippo Ganna at Ineos Grenadiers. He spends around 175 days a year on the road, both at races and training camps, but away from the kitchen truck he currently lives in Berlin. That’s where we caught up with Cox to lift the lid on his work at the British team, while seeking culinary advice and inspiration for cyclists of all levels…
Jon, thanks for your time. You’ve been with the team since 2017, after serving as head chef at Mac and Wild, and before that chef de partie at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Let’s start where every good day should – with breakfast; in other words, what’s a regular for the riders at races?
Often, I’ll start breakfast from around 7.30am, though give myself about an hour and a half to prepare, so things aren’t too hectic. Breakfast consists of soy porridge with overnight oats. There’ll be white rice, white pasta, with more of that consumed on big days in the mountains. It’s rather boring but the riders like to be consistent.
We also make different compotes including banana yoghurt. We make purees to go on top, like sweet potato puree, which they can consume for further carbs. You can add it to porridge or rice and it’s very nice. Omelettes. Lots of them. Every rider will have their standard omelette for a race but that can vary throughout the season. Some riders will have three whites with one yoke. That’s a popular one. Or two whites with one yoke. It’s a way of cranking up the protein but cutting down the fat.
Then, some guys like poached eggs. On rest days one will have them, then someone else sees and they ask for poached. It snowballs and becomes rather chaotic. Poaching that many eggs when you’re used to cooking omelettes is a little too much. However, what I’ve done recently is slow poach the eggs. For this, I use a circulator and you submerge the eggs in 63°C water for 45 minutes. Then they’re perfectly poached, perfectly silky and delicious. You can pop them into a coffee cup with a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil and slurp them like oysters! You can pop them onto toast, too, of course and they’re great, especially with good-quality eggs.
We also have jars of nuts, dried fruit and seeds, though we encourage the riders not to nail too many handfuls as there’s a lot of fat in nuts and seeds; that said, it’s healthy fats and they need that in their diet. That’s more understood now. Many years ago, the team were zero fat; it was a law kind of thing!
On big days we’ll make banana protein pancakes, especially at Grand Tours, because over 30 days we need to keep things a little bit different. To surprise them with something like that is appreciated. It’s a bit naughty but still contains many carbs and they can take it with them on the team bus, too. We simply replace some of the flour for chocolate or vanilla protein powder.
So, breakfast is done. What next?
Well, if the riders have a big transfer to the start, we’ll ensure they take more pancakes or a slice of healthy cake. I’ll also make the riders’ recovery meals, which they’ll consume on the team bus after the stage. It’ll feature lean protein and a big box of pasta or a big rice dish with a tomato-based sauce like a puttanesca, caponata or plain tomato, which they can heat up on the truck. There’ll be pesto and parmesan on the bus, too. You’ll find that chicken is everywhere. Chicken breast, chicken thighs, chicken legs, even chicken mince, which we make into these nice meatballs. We might replace with fish sometimes – tuna and salmon are good – but once it’s been in the team bus’ fridge for seven hours, you can’t guarantee it won’t smell.
Where do you cook?
It depends on the race. If it’s something like the Grand Tour, we’ll be in the kitchen truck that we’ve had for many years. It has a big kitchen and dining room, and has everything the riders need. At the smaller races, we often use a kitchen van, which is just a kitchen. The team bought it when Covid struck so we could avoid hotel kitchens, meaning we could guarantee good hygiene, which we push as a team. Sometimes you’ll hit the hotel kitchens in the middle of nowhere and they’re an absolute disaster. They’re filthy and don’t have the equipment you need. Or they’re very busy and you’re squeezed for space to cook. To do that everyday is chaotic, especially with the amount of food we cook for the riders. That said, we do also cook in nicer hotels
What are your movements when the riders head off to the stage start?
I’ll pack down the kitchen truck, making sure that everything’s strapped down so that when you’re driving down a mountain, half the kitchen doesn’t fly around! I’ve had disasters. You forget to lock the fridge or a cupboard. When you stop and look in the back, there’s smashed juice everywhere. It’s wet and then there’s flour on top. It’s been a right mess, though you do learn quickly to ensure everything’s locked. I’ll then stop at a supermarket for the evening’s meal, plus more ingredients for breakfast and the recovery meals.
It must take some planning?
Well, the night before I’ll look where the next shop is, which is often a hypermarket. But you’ll keep your eye out if there’s a good butchers or good fishmongers on the way. The problem is, you don’t have a huge amount of time to shop – maybe an hour – so you often do it all in one place. When you get to the hotel, you might have an hour to set up and then be cooking for two-and-a-half to three hours. If you’re not moving hotel and you’re in a nice town, you can spend more time shopping and treat the riders, which is nice.
We’re presuming that most of the ingredients are organic?
We do look for the finest we can source but that’s not always possible. You might be in the middle of nowhere in Spain and all they have is tomatoes and aubergines. That can be tricky. But you roughly know that’s going to happen, so you might stock up the day before.
So, the riders have finished the stage. They’ve consumed the recovery box on the team bus and are back at the team hotel. What’s for dinner?
It depends on the next day. If it’s a rest day, we’ll cook red meat. If we’re feeling nice and the nutritionist gives us permission, we might even cook burgers, though you keep it lean and don’t add too much fat. Maybe do that with roast potatoes. With a good salad. They won’t go crazy on the carbohydrates into the rest day. They’ve already eaten their recovery meal. Or we might cook a nice steak with chimichurri sauce. If you’re in Spain and can get hold of some delicious Txuletons [enormous rib steaks], you’ll be very popular.
What about if the next day’s more intense and in the mountains?
Again, a lot of chicken. For dinner we always cook meat and fish for protein. It could be on oily fish like tuna or salmon, or a white fish. And then we’ve a good amount of freedom how we want to do things, so I might cook a baked cod in a tomato-based sauce – cherry tomatoes, basil, capers, that kind of thing. That goes well with many vegetables. You’d then keep the meat protein offering plain as you want one simple dish and one more complicated, so the riders have choice. You’re cooking for seven or eight riders and they all have different tastes.
Expert cooking is essential for helping Ineos Grenadiers riders thrive on mountain stages (Zak Williams/SWPix)
Do those tastes vary depending on where the rider’s from?
Definitely. The British riders love curries and spicy food. They’ll ask me if I can cook a curry sauce as a side, so I might do a light Thai curry number. It’s good to add some ‘wet’ to the rice, so it’s like a curry but not a full curry. But then some days I will cook full curries.
Any vegetarians on the team?
No, though a couple of the staff members are but we don’t often cook for them.
Okay, some culinary advice, please, for recreational riders?
Good pans are essential; you want a thick base pan. Say you’re cooking a steak (which you need at room temperature before cooking so it cooks evenly all the way through). If the base is too thin, all the heat will go into the steak and you’ve then lost the heat from the bottom of the pan. So, you won’t get any colour on the steak or won’t be able to sear onto that steak, so you will lose flavour. A thick bottom base retains so much more heat and is so much better.
As for pan material, I know there’s a cast-iron phase at the moment. They are good, give you that consistency of cooking but are a lot harder to look after. So, I’d go for stainless steel, certainly over aluminium. The aluminium pan will be thin and bendy.
We know heat control matters a lot when cooking. A preferred hob?
In the truck we’ve got gas because it’s easier to source gas. But I love induction because it’s very powerful, is easy to clean and simple to use. But sometimes you have issues with electric, especially when you’re in different parts of the world. They don’t have the power we need so we go for gas.
(Image courtesy of Ineos Grenadiers)
What oil would you recommend for frying?
Firstly, I’d say it’s fine to shallow fry but don’t use too much oil and drain the excess. So, if you’re making a big beef ragu and want to colour up mince, a lot of oil will come out of the mince, so just put it in the colander and let the fat drain away [maybe into an empty can rather than down the drain where it could cause a blockage]. You also don’t want a greasy ragu!
As for the type of oil, I’d go for rapeseed. It has a high smoking point, so you can reach a higher temperature and will get a better colour on what you’re cooking. It doesn’t have a crazy flavour, either, so won’t affect what you’re cooking. Olive oil’s not great for frying as it has a lower smoking point. Also, it has too much flavour, though it’ll often be a harsher, burnt flavour because of that low smoking point! Olive oil’s better for your health but reserve it for salads, sauces and dressings.
What about essential foods for the larder?
Lots of spices. I love spices. Where I live in Berlin, I’ve literally got all the Middle Eastern, Turkish, Arab supermarkets nearby and they’re brilliant. You literally go into these shops and you’ve got walls of all the spices in the world. You have so many options to jazz up food, which is needed if you’re cooking chicken every day! I’m a big fan of za’atar. It’s good for salads and adding a final touch to foods. I’m a big fan of a cooking spice like a good smoked paprika. You can liven up a ragu and brighten up roast potatoes. Cumin, coriander and cinnamon for making tagines.
Stock up on grains. And don’t be afraid of tinned food. If you’re on your bike, get home and you’re knackered, you want to keep it simple and eat quickly. And they hold their nutrition well. Tinned food is usually harvested and tinned within the day, so there are many nutrients in there. When something’s picked, farmed and sent somewhere, you can lose a lot of goodness because the good nutrition degrades quickly. Tinned tomatoes are often better nutritionally than ‘fresh’ tomatoes in the UK. Also, spend a little more on good-quality tinned tomatoes. The manufacturers put in much better, flavoursome tomatoes.
Finally, any supplements the Ineos Grenadiers riders use that might benefit recreational cyclists?
They use lots from the SiS range – multivitamins, iron, vitamin C, beta alanine [known for boosting power over the short term] depending on the length of the stage. We have a big cupboard and they take what they need, albeit the supplements are individual to the rider. They’ll speak to our nutritionist and work out their individual needs.
We’ve also got a shedload of cherry juice concentrate in the truck. That’s another SiS sachet. They’ll have that in the evening as it contains melatonin so it’s good for sleep. We use beetroot juice, too. Depending on the stage, we might also make a diuretic juice so they lose a little bit of water weight.
Jon Cox's recipe for diuretic juice
Diarrhetic juice last in the fridge for 2-3 days
Apples - Granny Smith x6
Pineapple - x1/2
Celery - 1/2 bunch
Ginger - x1 nugget
Lemons - x2
500ml hibiscus tea infusion (make before to infuse and cool, then add to the juice)
Cover image courtesy of Ineos Grenadiers