726 000 meals served. Over four weeks. In Brazzaville. Chef Stuart McClarty gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics of catering for the African Games.

I was privileged to be part of the team that catered for the 11th African Games in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, working with Christophe Jouet of Africa Events and Catering.

The catering was done by a multinational team of 130 professionals from all over Africa and 1200 Congolese crew. The catering brief was to feed over 7000 athletes from 54 countries and 3000 volunteers from Congo, 3 meals a day for 26 days duration the games. This was over and above the VIP suites in the stadium and the catering at the satellite sites around Brazzaville. This all took place in Kintele, 20 kilometres outside Brazzaville, at the new stadium that was purpose built for the event. My particular focus was the procurement of all the food and beverage for the duration of the games.

The menus were planned well in advance in order to allow time to procure the large quantities of food needed to feed everyone. The menus for the athletes consisted of a pasta section with a vegetarian sauce and a meat sauce. There were also two proteins, one of which was either chicken or fish, a choice of two salads and two vegetables and starch. All the meat that was used had to be Halaal. The menus were varied to ensure that all tastes were catered for.

The kitchen was purpose-built for the games with all the equipment coming from South Africa. This included 20 by 20 pan ovens, 16 tilting pans, 18 flat top grills and 16 deep fryers as well as two Capdan cookers. The electricity was supplied by 9 x 450KVA generators which peaked at using 4000 litres of diesel a day. The gas was supplied by the local supplier, and a total of over 9000kg of gas was used during the games.

The sourcing of ingredients locally was a major challenge as Congo is a small country with a limited manufacturing industry. A number of trips to Congo were undertaken to source local suppliers. Bread, pastries, eggs, cold drinks, water and yoghurt were the few things that we were able to source in Brazzaville. A portion of the dry goods were supplied by a local importer. At the height of the games, 25 000 baguettes were being delivered daily by various local bakeries. The kitchen was using between 15 000 and 20 000 eggs a day for breakfast. The sheer volume of what was required made it impossible to source more ingredients locally.

Over 800 000 bottles of excellent locally sourced water were consumed over the duration of the games, resulting in an almost daily delivery of water. This was in addition to the cold drinks and juice that was consumed.

The majority of the ingredients came from South Africa through various suppliers in Johannesburg and Durban. A total of 47 tonnes of chicken leg quarters, 20 tonnes of hake fillets, 25 tonnes of Mutton, 4 tonnes of cheese and over 130 tonnes of fruit and vegetables.

The produce from South Africa was flown from O R Tambo International Airport using chartered planes. There were 6 flights dedicated to the food with other flights for equipment and other supplies that were needed to make the catering for the games a success. The food had to be sourced and delivered to the fresh produce forwarder in time for inspections and repacking into the correct size pallets to fit into the aircraft. These were then wrapped in a thermal blanket to protect the food during the flight and subsequent journey from Maya Maya airport to the stadium in Kintele. All the high risk items such as chicken and fish had LogTags temperature recording devices on each pallet to ensure that the cold chain was maintained throughout the journey. The flight to Congo is 4 hours and then at least 3 or 4 hours to unload and transport to the stadium.

The biggest challenge in the procurement process of the food was that all the food had at least a ten day lead time from placing the order in Johannesburg to the produce being delivered to the site in Congo. This meant that we had to have sixteen  12 metre refrigerated containers and 28 12 metre dry containers to hold enough stock for at least 10 days at a time. There was a dedicated team of over 100 people responsible for the management of the stock, working 24 hours a day to ensure that the stock was rotated and issued in time.

Stock holding of high usage items was managed daily and orders placed immediately to ensure a constant supply of food and also to try and minimise waste at the close of the games. The constant juggle between keeping the stores full and not wasting was a challenge, but the entire team worked hard to make it a success.

When I look back at what was achieved it is incredible to think that over 726000 meals were served over the 4 week period.