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Grand Valley State’s Mixa Cooks for Olympic Athletes in London

Grand Valley State University Executive Chef Paul Mixa said cooking for Olympic athletes in London was the experience of a lifetime.

Mixa, a Chicago native who joined Grand Valley based in Allendale, Mich., in 2004, was part of a team of international chefs selected to prepare dishes for athletes who competed in the Olympics from August through September.

“It really was a great experience,” said Mixa. “I think the most amazing thing about it was that all these different chefs and people who never worked together came together to pull off a huge event. We were feeding 18,000 people a day.”

Chefs were divided into smaller teams to prepare different types of cuisines, such as African, Asian and Italian. Mixa was part of the “heart of the kitchen,” the team that gathered and prepared ingredients for all the different stations. The kitchen was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Some athletes were there at three in the morning. It was pretty steady throughout the whole day,” Mixa said.

Mixa had to learn how to use the metric system, which he said was challenging at first. “We used it every day, so I got a handle on it quickly,” he said. “On my last day, someone needed 2 kilograms of peppers, so I prepped them, and I was like ‘Yes!’ when she said they were spot on.”

Learning the different names of ingredients used in Europe also took some getting used to, said Mixa. For example, cilantro is called coriander and sugar snap peas are called mange-tout.

Mixa got a chance to watch runners during the Paralympics and the match between Japan and the United States in women’s soccer finals during the Olympics. “All the cheering sent shivers down my spine when the U.S. scored their first goal. It was great to see so much American pride,” he said.

Mixa has taught food-science courses in the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Grand Valley and attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona.