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Cooking their way through culinary Olympics

WHO

Jack Hemingway and Sarah Kemp

WHAT

Like many Londoners, Hemingway, 26, and Kemp, 25, weren’t able to buy Olympic events tickets. Instead, they started a blog and dinner club called Eat the Olympics (www.eattheolympics.com). Since January, the couple has been testing one recipe from each of the 205 countries, from Afghanistan through Zimbabwe, participating in the London Games. They plan on completing their culinary challenge by the end of the Paralympics on Sept. 9. Each dish has been awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal, except for the few which were disqualified for being inedible.

Q. Why did you decide to do this?

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Jack Hemingway: There’s quite a bit of negativity in London about the Olympics. People are moaning about how busy it’s going to be. But for me it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. The whole world’s coming to London for a two- or three-week party. We’re never going to be able to travel to all these places in our lifetime, so this is our own little way of getting involved.

Q. What has been the most difficult aspect of the challenge?

J.H.: I’m not one for following recipes and reading recipes, but for this we really have to because we don’t know what they eat in Eritrea. So there’s research involved, you have to follow recipes to make sure you’re doing the right thing, and that all takes time.

Sarah Kemp: Which Jack hates. Jack will never follow a recipe normally. I’ve been making him follow recipes and he’s not been very happy about it.

Q. Speaking of recipes, it’s difficult enough to find recipes from Kenya and New Zealand, but how did you find dishes from Vanuatu and Guinea-Bissau?

S.K.: If the Internet hadn’t been invented, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it.

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J.H.: We’ve been sent a few books and people have been contacting us through the website, Twitter, and Facebook, recommending recipes or certain ingredients we should use for different countries. We could have ended up spending a fortune on this, sourcing ingredients, buying cookbooks, and eating out. But we tried to spend what we would normally spend on a week’s food.

Q. A few dishes have been disqualified. Talk about those.

S.K.: The one that sticks out in my mind was the sweet potato cake. It looked OK, but the texture was so wrong. It was mushy, and it was so sweet. I don’t know whether the recipe we got was wrong or whether we did it wrong, but it just went really bad. It was inedible.

J.H.: There’s only ever time to cook each dish once. If we were practicing each dish to get it right, we’d be here for years. Sometimes we don’t know if it’s just a bad recipe, whether we’ve made a mistake cooking it, or whether or not it’s plain bad food.

Q. Do you have a favorite dish so far?

S.K.: I think we both agree on the favorite, maybe because it made such an impact. It was actually one of the cookbooks that we got sent, the Nepalese cookbook. The dish is Ghurka egg curry. We like to cook a lot of curry, but we never thought of putting egg in a curry before. Jack hates it if an egg is not soft-boiled, but the eggs had to be hard-boiled because you’re putting it in a curry — and he absolutely loved it. The flavors were just incredible and it really stood out. That was the first one we gave a gold to, I think.

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Q. Do you have a division of labor in the kitchen?

S.K.: We have a little joke that I’m Jack’s sous chef. I do most of the baking. We both cook, but Jack is more in charge of the cooking. I tend to do the washing up. Jack wipes the surfaces. We do have our little roles, actually. Sometimes Jack bosses me about, but I can deal with it.
Karen Given


Interview was condensed and edited. Karen Given can be reached at kgiven@hotmail
.com.