The performance chef who keeps athletes on their toes

By Magnus Bennett
BBC Scotland News

image captionRachel has been a private chef for 20 years

For 20 years, Rachel Muse has been preparing meals for the rich and famous.

As a private chef, she has served business leaders, musicians, sports stars and the landed gentry.

Rachel's early clients included two Formula One drivers, a classical pianist, an Irish rock band manager and other wealthy individuals such as the late English industrialist Baron Hanson.

But five years ago, she set up shop as a "performance" chef, creating bespoke meals for elite athletes based on the advice of their nutritionists.

image sourceBarbara Leatham
image captionRachel says she tries to give elite athletes a healthy balanced diet in accordance with their nutritionists' advice

She has since cooked for Team GB Olympic swimmers, Americas Cup sailors, rugby players and top-flight footballers, including two members of Scotland's national team and nine English Premier League players.

The 49-year-old Wiltshire-based chef refuses to reveal their identities but says she discovered some fascinating secrets about their eating habits.

"Pretty nearly every athlete I have worked with has a big drawer in their home full of things that they try to keep hidden - their naughty drawer," she says.

"It will have things like crisps, pop tarts and all kinds of sweets, all the things that would go down really well at a children's party - every kind of naughtiness you can think of.

Rachel, whose business Talk Eat Laugh is based in Salisbury, was also surprised to find out how little some clients knew about basic foodstuffs.

"More than one footballer has said to me: 'What sort of animal is a lentil?'," she says.

"They are intelligent people but many of them come from backgrounds where they didn't have access to really good fresh food. They were fed on packet food and thought that was normal.

"I have seen athletes we started working with eating croissants smothered in Nutella or two packets of Doritos and considered them to be meals."

image sourceBarbara Leatham

Rachel says she turns a blind eye to the "naughty drawer", focusing instead on meeting an athlete's individual nutritional requirements.

She says: "Food is very psychological - sometimes people who are having a bit of a grumpy day just fancy eating a packet of crisps.

"I think if 80% of the food they eat is really good quality and is fresh and packed full of nutrition, and 20% of it is naughty, I'm definitely not going to ring up their nutritionist and tell them what they were eating just before or after dinner.

"After all, if you are an athlete and you are literally running around all day, calories aren't actually the issue - it's about nutrition."

image sourceBarbara Leatham

According to Rachel, once an athlete has realised that fresh food can be as tasty as a "naughty" snack, they usually get on board with their diet.

She says: "Once we have the information we need from their nutritionists, we ask them what they actually want to eat on any given day.

"As a chef you can monkey around with most things and make a lower carb version, lower sugar version or a higher protein version of whatever they ask for - but you do need to be a skilful chef to pull it off.

"We find that when they taste the difference, for instance, between a freshly-made cake and one from a packet that was made two weeks previously in a factory, their naughty drawer tends to have fewer items in it."

image sourceBarbara Leatham

Rachel says her work has shattered her preconceptions about footballers.

She says: "Years ago I got a random phone call asking if I would like to cook for a footballer in Southampton - 15 miles away from where I was living.

"All I knew about footballers was when they were misbehaving, when they were on the front page of a newspaper.

image sourceBarbara Leatham

"I went to see him and he was really hardworking, dedicated, polite and all the things you would want from a client.

"That's not necessarily true of businessmen, who I have found can be very poor at communicating and difficult to work for.

"It made me realise I had been completely wrong about footballers."

'Bit demanding'

However, Rachel acknowledges that her clients can sometimes be demanding.

"Performers can get very stressed at times - you see that a lot just before they perform," she says.

"They kind of need that energy, to feed off it - they need the stage-fright to perform and be special and that's part of their thing.

"So often just before they perform they can get a bit in their own heads, a bit demanding - but that's just them.

"And in all honesty, as a chef, if I'm cooking for a big function I can be abrupt because I don't have any space in my head for dealing with anything else."

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