Chef Giulio Caccamo is helping the US men’s soccer team feel at home in Qatar

Thursday was Thanksgiving and even in Qatar it means turkey. The problem for Giulio Caccamo, the newly minted US World Cup team chef, was where to find it.

Turns out you can’t, at least not in the quantity or quality that Caccamo wanted. So he had to air the birds in from the US (you know turkeys can’t fly right?)

“Tonight is turkey, sweet mashed potatoes with marshmallow. So we kept it traditional,” Caccamo said on the eve of the Americans’ decisive showdown in the group stage against England on Friday.

This meal was one of dozens Caccamo will prepare for the national team and their staff during their stay in Qatar. But cooking is the least of his challenges because it doesn’t matter how good the food is if nobody eats it. When you’re dealing with 26 young men, including two teenagers, it’s not easy to get them to eat their vegetables.

This is where the artist in Caccamo comes into play.

“It’s about being creative and being healthy at the same time,” he said. “You have to give them healthy food [so] that they are good to walk 90 minutes. Still, it has to be fun and creative. I think the emotional part is important when it comes to food, so you have to touch it. They must be happy when they come into the dining room and see what they are about to eat. what’s new

“The excitement part, it’s very important.”

Caccamo loves food. He lives it, breathes it, and… well, eats it. That makes him exactly the guy you’d want to put in charge of feeding your World Cup team, because while an army marches on his belly, a soccer team plays on his belly, making a good cook almost as important as a good goalkeeper.

“I take it very seriously,” Caccamo said of his job.

The players say it shows.

“Our chef,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta, “did an exceptional job.”

Caccamo was neither looking for the job nor did it exist a little over a year ago when the USA flew to El Salvador for the start of World Cup qualification.

Unlike Mexico, which has historically traveled with a team chef, the US has preferred to work with staff at the hotel where the team is staying. At the Intercontinental in San Salvador, it was Caccamo, who quickly won over US coach – and well-known foodie – Gregg Berhalter not only with his cooking skills but also with his work ethic and meticulousness.

With the World Cup being limited to one city this year and the US team staying at a hotel, the idea of ​​bringing a chef to Qatar seemed like a good idea. After months of discussions, Berhalter offered the job to Caccamo, who at 39 thought his World Cup time had passed him by.

“Football is like a religion for us,” said the Italian-born and trained chef. “Ever since you were young you’ve always dreamed of playing in a World Cup. So yeah, even if Italy isn’t there, at least we’ll get an Italian at the World Cup.

⚽ World Cup 2022 in Qatar

“I am privileged and blessed to be here. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he continued. “I’m very grateful. Not just living the experience of being here, but being with them because as soon as you enter the group you can feel the atmosphere. It’s like family.”

Caccamo, his sous-chef and 11 other on-site employees prepare three buffet-style meals a day for up to 70 people, and very little of what they prepare is imported aside from the turkey. Instead, they scour the local markets for fresh ingredients. Menus are planned with the help of team nutritionists and a calendar, because what’s in each dish – protein or carbs, for example – is affected by how tight the next game is scheduled.

“We don’t cook much in advance,” Caccamo said. “We don’t waste food. That is a very important concern to me.”

A personal chef is just one of the perks available to US players at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel, the team’s sprawling five-star home on The Pearl, a 1½-mile-long artificial island in Doha’s West Bay. The hotel is indeed an asset in itself.

“It seems like they hit the jackpot to be able to secure these venues because it’s important to try and get it right,” Berhalter said. “We tried very hard to make it accommodating, to create the kind of environment that players are used to and to understand that we want to stay here for a long time.”

In order to create this environment, 15 tons of equipment and other support materials had to be brought in and a players’ lounge had to be set up in the hotel with pool tables, large-screen televisions and a putting green.

“All thirty feet,” Acosta said. US Soccer even brought a barber.

Perks are nothing new at the World Cup. For the 2010 tournament in South Africa, the late Diego Maradona, then Argentina coach, requested his suite be remodeled with an expensive toilet, a throne worthy of a football king. The Brazilians insisted on heating the water in their hotel pool to exactly 90 degrees, and the New Zealanders asked for golf lessons.

All of those requests have been met — and some sports psychologists say the cost is well worth it. Creating a comfortable environment that a player is used to can translate into better performance, they say.

Defenseman DeAndre Yedlin, the only holdover from the last US World Cup team from 2014, said the fact that players will be sleeping in the same bed during this tournament has already made a difference. In Brazil, the US team flew nearly 13,000 miles to play four games; The longest journey in Qatar will be the 52-mile bus ride to the edge of the Qatar desert for the game against England.

“The first day we got here, Gregg said to us, ‘Unpack your things. Put your books on the bookshelf, put your clothes in the drawers, make yourself comfortable here,'” Yedlin said. “That has a pretty positive effect, because you can really settle in and feel good.”

There was even a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.

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