Meals on Wheels: What It’s Like to Be a Team Chef

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Being the son of a Norwegian road race champion and brother of a Norwegian time trial champion, you would think that Henrik Orre was destined for a life on wheels. And in a way, you would be right but not as you probably envisaged. Because Henrik Orre is a chef, not a professional cyclist. But he is a special kind of chef, with a particular focus on cooking for cyclists.

Say hello to Henrik Orre, the Velochef. Henrik comes by his cycling creds legitimately. His father, Magne, was the 1976 Norwegian national road race champion and competed in two Summer Olympics, placing fifth in the 1972 team time trial in Munich and eighth in the same competition four years later in Montreal. In addition, Henrik’s brother Henning was the 1992 Norwegian ITT champion.

In an interview Orre explained why he chose not to follow the family’s cycling tradition. “I just had an old BMX bike that I used to ride around where we lived,” he said. “I saw how much effort was required from my brother to race on a national level and thought, ‘yeah, you go do that and I’ll try something different.’”

But Henrik also competed. He was part of the Norwegian team that won the World Culinary Championships in 2005 and 2006. Five years later, he was the head chef at the then-Michelin two-star restaurant Mathias Dahlgren. But with his family’s racing connections, it was inevitable that Henrik would become part of that world. In 2010, Thor Hushovd became the first Norwegian cyclist to win the UCI World Road Race Championship, which led to an increase in the budget of the Norwegian Cycling Federation, a large enough increase to pay for a fine-dining chef to fuel the needs of the Norwegian’s national team riders. Enter Henrik Orre.

That gig lasted for two years. At the same time, he hosted a Norwegian TV show in which he followed the Tour de France by preparing traditional regional dishes as the Tour passed through the country. Then the dominant cycling team of the 2010s, and one of the greatest teams in cycling’s history, Team Sky, came calling and he cooked for the likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome for five years. He must have been doing something right because in that period, Team Sky won the Tour four times, the Vuelta once and took three Paris-Nice and Critérium du Dauphiné GC wins.

Orre is certain that the team’s spectacular results were partly due to his efforts. “We could even translate Team Sky’s marginal gains in terms of food,” he explained. “Looking at every step of our operations and leading to us investing in a mobile kitchen truck to provide a safer and more efficient environment to prepare our meals. Much more controlled in terms of hygiene as it removed the need to use hotel kitchens. Even down to the way we transported our food in a temperature-controlled vehicle.”

But Orre said that cooking at a Grand Tour was very labour intensive and left him little leisure time. “I loved my time with Team Sky, but it was hard work,” he said. “My day would normally start around 7:00 a.m. when I’d go straight down to my kitchen to start on the breakfasts. The boys would then head off on the bus, leaving us to pack up the truck and ready it for our transfer. This could involve anything from one to four hours of driving, depending on the route, with hopefully enough time to do some shopping and sit down for lunch after arriving at the next hotel. But then you’d have to immediately start prepping for the team dinner. Working through the evening and then straight to bed. No chilled time at all.”

Following that adventure, Orre began writing the first of a series of three books in the Velochef series: Vélochef: Food for Training and Competition, Velochef in Europe and Outside is Free, all of them available as e-books here. Currently, Orre owns and manages the Velochef Clubhouse restaurant in Oslo, a casual restaurant widely praised by both cyclists and non-cyclists.