It’s a lazy Monday afternoon and we are at the picturesque Kandi village on the outskirts of Dharamshala town. The Dhauladhar range looks stunning as the winter sun reflects on its snow-capped peaks and we walk up to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) pavilion to catch a glimpse of the beautiful property which is located at the foothills of the mountains.
About a year ago, the deluxe resort, which is spread over an area of nine acres and has about 120 rooms, changed its name to Radisson Blu - with the hospitality giant tying up with the HPCA. The property that overlooks the HPCA Stadium was home for the Indian and the Sri Lankan teams that played a couple of T20Is at the hill town over the weekend.
Situated far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the luxury resort created a strict bio-bubble for the teams, ensuring that the players, who have been living out of a suitcase for months, felt at home. The players enjoyed their stay, before leaving for Chandigarh on Monday morning - a few hours before we reached.
Following the protocols of the Indian cricket board (BCCI), the hotel staff serving the players had to be in quarantine a week before the team’s arrival. Under the supervision of executive chef Rakesh Sethi, the corporate executive chef, Operations, South Asia, a team of trained chefs ensured they prepared well to cater to the players' needs.
“I remember a few years ago, when the Indian team had visited her to play against South Africa, Virat Kohli walked into the kitchen and taught me how to prepare a protein shake. I still cherish that memory,” chef Sethi quips.
And in a bio-bubble environment, that experience helped Sethi motivate his team and ensure that the cricketers were well fed. “Cricketers are very particular about their diet, so you need to be careful of each and everything. There are dietitians with the team, who first inspect the menu and then suggest changes keeping the diet chart of players in mind, and this being a bio-bubble environment, you need to ensure that everything is in order,” Sethi adds.
Since everyone is inside the bubble for weeks, it could get a tad challenging, but the executive chef and the top management ensured there was no breach. “We have to follow everything and be prepared for all circumstances. Even now, in case of in-room dining, we keep the food outside their rooms. If a player requests that the food should be delivered to the room, then we will make the room and ensure that the player is not around then. Once everything is done, we sanitise the rooms and put a seal. The player needs to break the seal and check into his room. That gives him a sense of safety,” Sethi says.
Sanjay Kaushik, senior regional director of operations, says, “The player is sure that nobody has entered the room in his absence. He knows that once there is a seal, that means the room has been cleaned and sanitised. The room is sanitised, cleaned and everyone involved in the process wears PPE suits. That’s a protocol we follow across our hotels where teams are put up.”
While safety is paramount, what about the food? Sethi smiles and reveals what the players prefer eating while being inside the bubble. “They are travelling for two or more months, so most of them want that home food. We make whatever they are craving for and that has to be healthy too,” Sethi says.
“There is a huge demand for gluten-free bread, bajre ki roti, makki ki roti and those things. I brought in some imported New Zealand lamb chops and if I cook them with lots of fat, then it’s not healthy. So, we grilled it and created barbecues and grills for the players. Whatever meat is permissible to them, they enjoyed and obviously, there were vegetarian options,” the chef says.
“Ishan Kishan had his own dietary requests. He would have three handfuls of nuts and only berries - blueberries and strawberries. Also, they wanted gluten-free bread and it is a challenge to make food choices interesting…”
“The BCCI gives us broad guidelines on what needs to be there. There has to be a protein intake and carbohydrates. We got those requests from both the teams and using our experience, that helps us to understand what a (Jasprit) Bumrah or a (Ravindra) Jadeja or a (Rahul) Dravid sir wants…” the seasoned chef says.
“Rohit (Sharma) loves gluten-free stuff. He asked for an egg-white masala omelette and on most days, he eats lean meat - chicken, fish - and doesn’t like too much fat. He is very particular about the intake…”
In an ideal world, the players could step out and taste local delicacies, but that’s not possible in a bubble. “You anticipate what would happen, so we got a task force from our sister hotels and beefed up our procedures and created small pantries on each floor so that you don’t need to run to the main kitchen for everything. If there is an order for tea and coffee, you can just get that from the pantry. A smaller and fixed menu is kept in the rooms. The players just scan the QR codes and send them to us, and we even take advance orders for breakfast in the morning to avoid rush…”
For the players, bubble life has been tough, but for the people working behind the scenes, too, it is a challenge to make the cricketers feel at home and keep them safe.
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