Cooking with Rollin

From issue 5 (Aug/Sept 2011) • Words by Jered Gruber with images from Michael Crook

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Eating is a focal point of every cyclist’s life; better stated, it’s a focal point of everyone’s life. Many treat it as a necessity, however others see food as much more than just simple nourishment and fulfilling a human need for caloric satiation. Dominique Rollin is one of those people. Simply put, he is passionate about food. peloton spoke to him at length about the topic.

How did you get into cooking? How did it become a passion of yours?

Quebec is known to be more like France than anywhere else, so we’re one of the only places that actually still properly cooks as a cultural thing. I grew up in a family where my dad cooks and my mom prepares meals every night. We barely ever go to the restaurant. We just cook. I got into that when it was simply cooking with my family and enjoying good food. I also started discovering restaurants on my own.

Being in Europe by myself the first few years, I spent a lot of time trying different recipes just to feed myself. I felt like it was refreshing and relaxing.  I would enjoy getting in the kitchen and almost falling into a trance.

I’ve got friends that have never seen me cooking before, and I’m like, ‘Get out of my way, the kitchen is mine.’  With cooking I have to full-on focus on what I’m doing, but at the same time I can still hold a conversation, but it’s a bit different.  And they ask, ‘Are you alright?’ Yeah, I’m alright, it’s just the pleasure of food for me.

I think that’s why I’m still cycling … well, sometimes not, because the food is atrocious at races. Cycling allows me to travel around though, discover new flavors, and also eat more, of course!

I started a degree in restaurant management, and we touched on everything in my studies: wine tasting, service, cooking—of course, that is a given—but also the management aspects of the business as well.

We had a class called Ingredient Discovery, or something like that, where we would just taste everything. We would have a sampling of like 20 different types of apples, and then you see what you can use all the different flavors for. One is bitter, one is sweeter, which one is good for tarts, which one is good for applesauce? This and that. We would go through most of the ingredients you can find. It opened my eyes and made me appreciate the possibilities around me.

I’ve got friends that come up with some culinary challenges sometimes. I’m always up for a new cooking challenge. I’ve got a good friend of my coach, Brian Walton, with whom I’ve been working with for about four years now. Every time I go to Philly, this friend says, ‘I’ve got some friends coming over tonight, would you like to come over and,’ He’s afraid to ask, but basically he’s saying can you cook for us?

Last time I was up there, he tells me, ‘Well, we’ll be about 25.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Here you go, 25 people. I had no recipes. I improvised a meal for 25 people, which is always a good challenge, because you’ve got to build a good meal, mind your serving time, but also not explode your budget.

One of my favorite memories was with the Kodak Gallery team. They used to call our integration activities we had with the team Beer Camp, because we would meet at the Sierra Nevada brewery for a week, which basically ended up in everyone drinking a lot of beer, because it was December. One of the main activities was on the last day: we had to cook a meal from the kitchen of the restaurant of the brewery for the entire team (about 12 or 13 riders), a few sponsors, and staff—which made about 20-25 people all told. The guys all laughed it off, ‘Ah, let’s do like last year.’ I think they did fajitas. I looked at them, and I started laughing, and I was like, ‘No, I’ll come up with a menu. What’s the budget?’

We ended up doing seared tuna with pilaf rice. We had a warm salad, and as a starter we had ratatouille with goat cheese—all made from scratch. At the beginning, the guys were all incredulous: “Are you sure we can do this?”

Of course we could. It was pretty fun, because I was sort of the man in charge of the kitchen. I told them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. It turned out really well.

Is cooking something you’re leaning towards after racing?

Yeah, I think I’ll head back to that. I’m actually missing it at the moment. I’m not often home, so I don’t get to cook much. Cooking for one isn’t as challenging or as satisfying as cooking for a restaurant or a group of people, so once in a while I’ll have people over.

We’ll have a good meal those nights, but most of the time, I’m here for three or four days, so it ends up with me cooking for myself, which is not that exciting. If I can get back into cooking in earnest, I think the first thing I will do is return to my studies around cooking. I love wine as well. I’m tasting some Spanish wine now, but I’m not as experienced at it as I could be. I’m here for racing, so I have to be focused. I cannot have a half bottle of wine every night. Stuff like that.

I’d like to try to gain some cooking experience after my career, maybe try to find some restaurants where I can actually work. As another possibility, maybe I could stay around cycling and be a chef for a team. I would like to build proper meals for cyclists. Sometimes a chef is needed, especially at certain races where the hotel serves you pasta and a burnt piece of poultry, where you can’t even say if it’s turkey or chicken. I don’t know if you have ever been to France to race, but even the French are like, ‘This is gross. This is disgusting.’ They overcook the pasta so badly you need a spoon to eat it.

With bad food in mind, do you have a meal or some foods that stand out as your favorites?

Everything. I like to experiment. I like to try different things. Here in Spain, I love the tapas. All of the food is extremely fresh, and the ingredients are just simple. It’s local. They have great markets, and three times a week, I can grab fruits and vegetables, and I cook with that.

I’m getting more and more into fish. They cook a lot of cuttlefish here in Girona, and I’m really falling in love with that.

I love the simplicity. The other day in a restaurant, I had an amazing salad, which was just onions and tomatoes with a bit of vinegar. That’s it. They have these special tomatoes that you only get here. They are extremely hard, half green, half red, so you think they are not ripe, but they actually are ripe. Almost no liquid at all comes out of these tomatoes. They’re skin and the flesh of the tomato—that’s it. They just chop that up, put in some onions, which have been sautéed not even two seconds, and then some vinegar on top of that. It was delicious. Incredible. There are some combinations that you don’t think about initially, but go so well together. That’s the fun of it.

I love how you can taste the actual ingredients. The freshness and the quality make it good, and that’s what I’m looking for in cooking. Something fresh, something good. There is actually a specific taste there, and you know what you’re eating. It’s not like a sauce with 35 ingredients where it tastes good, but I cannot tell what is in there. Italians are mainly cooking like this where most things are simple: three, four ingredients, not more than that. It’s all about quality and freshness. Like a slice of bread: they’ll put some Swiss chard or spinach on it with a bit of oil. That’s it. That’s your appetizer. It’s incredible. Or: just a piece of fish with a bit of lemon and cracked pepper. If the fish is cooked well, and the fish is fresh, you don’t need more. You want to taste the fish. Not that creamy whatever they put on top of it.

You are also a big lover of wines. What stands out to you?

I’m trying different stuff. I love a good, bold white. Real fruity. I’ve tried wine in a lot of different places. At the moment I’ve got a 1982 Bordeaux waiting to be opened, so I’m going to enjoy that pretty soon. I like to try different regions, different mixes, but something funky. There is a wine I found here in Spain—it’s from Castilla y León. The vine grows on granite, so they grow in a harsh, terrible environment. That wine … you should taste it. It’s got something marvelous. They pay attention to the vines; they pay attention to the details.

That’s the one thing you can see from wine—attention to detail. If you go to a certain region and you buy two wines, one from one vineyard and the other from the estate next door, they can taste so different. It all comes down to the way they treat the plant, the respect they give the plant, the way they follow the process from the roots to the growing of the grapes. If they treat them properly, and respect the way they do it, you get a great wine. You can see two wines, grown only a little distance apart from two estates, one next to the other, and there will be a different world of taste. This is the good thing. This is what amazes me. The same grape, from the same place, from the same sunlight, can give you so many different tastes. Just the way you prepare it.

I enjoy a good glass of wine. It’s casual. You do it with friends. You share. You socialize. Belgium is the same. I enjoy the good beers there. There are some incredible beers there. It’s just a matter of flavor. I’ll enjoy a good beer, but I won’t touch a Budweiser. I figure, you might as well get a good one, enjoy the taste and the flavors, rather than drink 20 Budweisers ….

From issue 5. SOLD OUT!

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.