x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Biker chefs turn Desert Challenge into a moveable feast

A group of French chefs will surely be the best-fed team over five days at this year's Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

From left, Philippe Morbelli, Alexandre Treffle, Yvan Rocher, Christophe Sapy and Pierrick Cizeron of the Desert Frogs.
From left, Philippe Morbelli, Alexandre Treffle, Yvan Rocher, Christophe Sapy and Pierrick Cizeron of the Desert Frogs.

ABU DHABI // Team Desert Frogs might not break any records on their motorcycles at this year's Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge - but they will surely be the best-fed team. For starters, the Dubai-based Frenchmen are all chefs. Philippe Morbelli works at Atlantis, Pierrick Cizeron is at Le Méridien Dubai and Alexandre Treffle is the executive chef at French Bakery. Their support team are also chefs.

They will be among more than 100 competitors setting off on motorcycles, quad bikes and off-road vehicles from base camp in Liwa tomorrow on a five-day trek that will finish at the Qasr Al Sarab desert resort. "Our aim is just to finish the race. If we do well, that's even better," said Mr Morbelli, who will be riding a Husaberg while his teammates will be on Hondas. The three met 10 years ago at a seminar in Dubai, where they spent more time getting to know each other than learning new culinary techniques.

"We were at a pastry-cooking demonstration and we just clicked very quickly. We were at the back of the room talking and it turned out we all liked bikes," said Mr Morbelli. Mr Morbelli and Mr Treffle have ridden motorcycles off-road in France. They introduced the sport to Mr Cizeron, who said his first attempt at desert riding involved him spending a considerable amount of time in the sand instead of on his bike.

"Someone managed to ride over my head so it was lucky I wore a helmet," he said. "The mark on my head was a special tribute to that day, but I was not a very good student." The support team are all from Le Méridien. Christophe Sapy is the hotel's executive pastry chef, Yvan Rocher works in M's Beef Bistro and Thierry Krenper is a chef at Warehouse. Their main role is to provide the Desert Frogs with fuel, in the form of healthy meals every night when the team camps in Liwa.

They will also make sandwiches for the riders to eat along on the gruelling route. "We will have a truck with a fridge and freezer and a barbecue, as well as tables and chairs, and maybe even linen table cloths - to make it nice for the team, that is our job," said Mr Sapy. "The other teams will be jealous. "We will be cooking special food, we want them to eat decently, maybe steak tartar. But seriously, it will be things like pasta, steaks, vegetables, and sandwiches for the ride such as tuna or hammour. They need food to help their bodies recover."

While the campsite where the teams are staying is in the middle of the desert, it will have all the equipment necessary to make top-notch meals. And the Desert Frogs are looking forward to sleeping in tents. "We are in hotels all year, it will be nice to get away from hotels," said Mr Morbelli. "It will be more rough than our usual lives - except for the food." While all three riders are experienced motorcyclists, their busy work schedules do not allow much time for training.

"It's a tough schedule," said Mr Morbelli. "We get up early and ride for maybe one-and-a-half or two hours and then I have to get to work to be on duty and we only get one day off a week." @Email:glewis@thenational.ae