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Book review: ‘The Grand Tour Cookbook’

Tinkoff-Saxo chef Hannah Grant shows readers how to cook their way through a grand tour in her newly translated book.

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There was a time — and not long ago — that grand tour riders left their diet during the race to chance. There wasn’t any alternative; the quality of race hotels — and their kitchens — varied widely from stage to stage, and you ate what was available because, well, you were hungry.

But in the era of marginal gains, teams have realized the central role nutrition plays in riders’ ability to sustain good form over the course of a three-week race. Teams began by working with nutritionists to improve riders’ diets, and it was only a matter of time before teams discovered a way to solve the problem of the unpredictability of food during the races. The last five years have touched off something of a renaissance in cycling nutrition as teams built custom kitchen trucks and hired full-time chefs to staff those trucks.

Among team chefs, none have built a bigger following than Tinkoff-Saxo’s Danish chef, Hannah Grant. Grant joined the team in 2011 and, in 2013, published her “Grand Tour Cookbook” in Danish, based on her experience cooking for the team at the Tour and other major races.

The book was finally released in English weeks before the beginning of the 2015 Tour de France.

The book is laid out using the rhythm of a grand tour, 20 stages and two rest days with a host of dinner recipes — plus a dessert — to choose from for each day, representing what Grant might cook for the team for each stage. There are separate sections on breakfast and a look at what goes into the musette bags riders snag as they pass through the feed zone. (Since riders don’t get a break for lunch, regular stages do not include lunchtime recipes.)

There are additional sections with instructions on how to prepare the various stocks and sauces Grant uses through the book. Stages and sections are occasionally intercut with rider and staff interviews and other information about food and nutrition.

The layout is smart, engaging, and gorgeous. Virtually every recipe is accompanied by a photo of the dish, so the book is bright and colorful and mouthwatering. At home, I generally cook dinner for my wife and children, and I worked my way through the three weeks of the Tour de France pulling recipes from the book. After all, growing kids are not all that different from stage racers — they need a ton of food, as nutritious as possible.

The recipes are well-presented, the ingredients helpfully listed in the margin of the text with a little code to tell you whether the dish is appropriate for someone eating a diet free of gluten, nuts, or dairy. It’s a chef’s cookbook: The recipes are concise and clear and to the point, but they could be a little challenging for an inexperienced cook. The book’s organization is undeniably a gimmick, but it’s a good one and Grant has clearly put some thought into how the different meals fit into the arc of a grand tour. The book has a clear and well-organized index that helped me find the recipe I know I must have made somewhere during the race’s passage through the Alps, even when I couldn’t remember which stage it appeared in in the book.

During our Tour de France cooking experiment, I didn’t cook from the book every night, but we enjoyed following along, picking out interesting recipes and trying them out. Most of the recipes we tried will go into our regular dinner menu rotation. It’s a good addition to the bookshelf for anybody who enjoys a good meal but is interested in cycling, fitness, and nutrition. It is available via hannahgrant.com and at select cycling retailers.