Inside the Australian Open kitchens
Markus Werner carries a knife throughout the event but concedes he does more talking than chopping. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Markus Werner was born in Germany, trained in Munich and has spent the past 16 years working in executive chef positions in Australia. For the third January in a row, his role with hospitality giant Delaware North will involve him overseeing more than 200 chefs working across 17 kitchens at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. The role involves ensuring the estimated 600,000 tennis fans are happy with the food on offer during the fortnight-long tournament, while also accommodating corporate ticket-holders and, of course, the players.
The big stage
I've been in charge of the food at many big events, including the Logies and the Brownlow Medal when I worked at Crown, but nothing compares to the Australian Open. There's an explosive energy; it's like a new city has been born . . . We prepare more than 6000 corporate meals each day.
The Player's Cafe at the Australian Open, where tennis players get their fill. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
My 17 kitchens
The staff kitchen is one of the biggest. We prepare about 3000 meals each day for staff, including all the ball boys and girls. There's a kitchen just for the media. There's a kitchen at Rod Laver that just services the corporate superboxes. There are 35 superboxes seating up to 18 people, and each box has its own menu.
It's a buffet-style set-up. Two chefs make sushi to order, another chef makes pasta to order, while another four chefs work on the hot-food section where there might be a choice of sirloin steak, slow-roasted beef and dukkah-crumbed barramundi. There's also a yoghurt bar and sandwich bar. Years ago, I would have told you that pasta was the most common food consumed by tennis players, but this may no longer be true. Proteins such as chicken and red meats play an increasingly important part in their diets. There are many players who prefer gluten-free, notably Novak Djokovic. The Player Cafe is very busy, but it's the only kitchen that gets quieter as the tournament progresses; there are only two players left at the end!
For the fans
People expect more than your average pie or sausage roll, and rightly so. We aim to have the best burgers and the tastiest hot dogs. We're even introducing a 12-hour, slow-roasted, grass-fed beef leg to the menu, which will be served in a pumpkin rye roll. So there will be sandwiches and seafood and everything in between, including lamingtons shaped like tennis balls.
Fuelling the players
What knocks me over with the tennis players is the portion sizes. Some of them have been known to lose up to eight kilograms in a game, so food really is their fuel. The players go through about 3500 bowls of pasta (above) during the Open. Many have their own chefs, but we accommodate most in the Player Cafe. All players get a booklet detailing the ingredients and energy content of all the dishes on offer.
My tool kit
My staff often laugh and ask me why I carry a knife; due to the scale of the event, I do more talking and testing than I ever do chopping. Despite this, I always have my Furi knife with me: it's the cleanest, shiniest tool in the kitchen. It was given to me when I worked in Cairns soon after I came to Australia. I am also blessed with a very loud voice, and I find this extremely useful. I'm often told to "keep it down" by front-of-house staff. I'd also be lost without my Convotherm oven (above) for slow-braising.
I love extra virgin olive oil and use Jingilli (from Western Australia). Being German, I am crazy about bread, and this year I'm introducing organic, old-style Brasserie Bread (above) to our a la carte corporate restaurant, Blu. Fresh herbs are also incredibly important, and every dish will include them.