Joined by Omar Meziane, Alaska Seafood explores the power of protein in fish
Who are you cooking for at the moment?
OM: At the moment I divide my time between Harlequin’s rugby club and the England football team. I suppose the two biggest names that I work with in Rugby are Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler – both are currently in Japan. Earlier this year Joe decided that he would retire from international rugby, but quickly changed his mind. I think something clicked in his brain and he realised that he still had what it takes to play at that level and had another world cup challenge in him. So what do I do? My main job is to feed the players, the team and make sure that they are eating well.
How does it work? Do you arrange a diet plan for them?
OM: Essentially what I do is match up the team’s training plan to the food that they need to eat. On a heavy training day, it’s all about giving them as much lean protein as possible with high carbs for energy. It’s really simple when you know. I work with some of the world’s greatest performance nutritionists who essentially give me the scientific intel behind macro and micronutrients, which I then turn into good, tasty food. I think one of the things that I always try and do when I’m cooking is make sure that its recognisable. There’s no point in cooking everything with quinoa and avocado if they are not going to eat it – on the way home they’ll only stop at McDonalds!
Do you prep all of their meals for them and what ingredients would you typically include?
OM: On a typical day training day at Harlequins I’ll cook breakfast for them, then I’ll cook lunch and I’ll even do a post-training feed as well. All in all, they get three really good performance enhancing, recovery aiding meals a day. We try and include as much fish as possible. Salmon is our go-to especially around the lighter lunches where we want them to be eating high protein and the right kind of fats. A piece of grilled salmon, a salmon salad or the salmon katsu curry is a really good way of encouraging them to eat fish.
What do you think are the biggest health benefits of wild salmon for the players?
OM: Wild salmon has so many health benefits, but I suppose the biggest benefit is recovery. In theory, it can enable the recovery of joints and muscle soreness because of the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This should help them to run around for longer at the level and intensity required, as long as the rest of the meal has been planned correctly.
During the world cup, what will the nutritional team be focusing on?
OM: The nutritionists that are in Japan with the England team will definitely have gone out there with a set plan. They would have uncovered every dusty book out there and researched everything. They need to make sure that the players are getting the best diet to enhance performance. With the world cup being hosted in Japan this year, they’re going to be treated to some of the best quality ingredients. Not only will it be an incredible career highlight for them, but it will also be a phenomenal gastronomic experience.
You had a couple of seafood recipes in your book with James Haskell, what was your inspiration behind the these?
OM: Seafood, especially salmon, for James [Haskell] is a really important ingredient. James, as a slightly older athlete has been through the mill, eats fish in large quantities. Salmon, especially in dishes like katsu curry is perfect because you’ve got the added benefits of turmeric which science says helps with inflamed joints. The turmeric combined with the salmon creates a super bowl of anti-inflammatory food. Seafood is such an important part of his diet and his wife, Chloe Madeley, looks after him wonderfully well making sure he eats what he should be eating and not what he’s tempted by!
We wanted the book to be as personal as possible so in essence it’s a collection of recipes that I’ve cooked for James over the years that he’s particularly enjoyed. All tried and tested. I hope it’s a useful guide for other athletes who want to tailor their meals.
If you compare salmon to chicken – do you think that the two proteins have a different purpose?
OM: I think chicken in this country is massively oversold. We go to chicken because it’s just easy – it’s lean and full of protein. I don’t know anybody unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian who won’t eat chicken. On the other hand, I think fish in this country is massively undersold because we’re slightly scared of it – even though we’re an island in the middle of the Atlantic. The thing about fish, in particular wild salmon, is that it’s high in protein and low in fat, which is the perfect combination for training sessions. It’s hard for me to understand why we don’t all eat fish all of the time for that very reason.
My guess is that people don’t know how to make the best of fish or how to cook it properly. It’s not the go-to ingredient and therefore feels slightly alien. But hopefully with some simple recipes and tips, we can show that it’s super easy to cook with. And mega tasty.
So, why Alaska seafood?
OM: Alaska for me represents the best that fish has to offer. But firstly I would encourage people to just eat more fish because of the nutritional benefits it has – ideally naked fillets rather than breaded or battered fish. But once you’ve started to get the flavour for it, it’s worth looking at the different types of fish out there.
Wild salmon for example spends its life swimming in the Pacific ocean which means that the meat is leaner and heartier. The fat levels are lower than in fish that has been farmed, so the white lines that run through salmon fillets are a lot less pronounced or obvious. It’s a natural source of protein that we should be taking advantage of, so for me the more we can eat, the better.