No butter or sugar, only white meat, protein-rich and lots of fruits and milk - Praveen Anand, executive chef at the ITC Sheraton Park Hotels and Towers here, has his task cut out as he decides the menu for Chennai Super Kings. Apart from whipping up healthy meals, he has to cater to players' tastes and ensure they don't get bored with food.
While Anand is proud to feed the 'lions', as the team members are called thanks to their 'roaring lion' mascot, he definitely is tense given the restrictions on the ingredients and because he has to make sure nothing untoward happens to the players even if they get food from outside.
"We have to do the fire fighting even if a player falls sick after taking outside food. This gives me the tension," said Anand.
The ITC group is the official hotelier for the India Premier League (IPL) event this year.
"The basic philosophy for cooking for the cricketers given by the team manager and physiotherapist is that there should be no visible fat, no cream, butter and sugar, the food should be high on proteins and carbohydrates," Anand said when asked about the special food being prepared.
"Also, it is only white meat - fish and chicken - and no red meat. Players have to take lots of fruits, fruit juices and milk," he added.
According to him, the menu list is vetted by the team physiotherapist and manager and he has been given a player-wise menu list as to what they can and cannot eat.
"It is normally tough to cater to a person living out of suitcase for more than 10 days. Here the Chennai Super Kings players will stay with us for around 40 days. In order to cater to their needs we have assigned one chef. All the requests from the team will be made to him," Anand said.
While the players breakfast at the hotel's coffee shop, lunch and dinner are custom made.
Though the players are on strict food regime, requests for food outside the permitted list will be supplied to them with intimation to the team manager. However, Anand agrees the player's requests are simple as "most of them want comfort food - the food they have grown with".
It is only Australian cricketer Mathew Hayden, a foodie travelling with a mini oven, who at times cooks his own food.
"Many a times Hayden will come to the kitchen and ask us if he could make himself some dish," Anand said.
During the practice sessions, the players take lots of fruit juice, salad and sandwiches.
While peanut butter is permissible, mayonnaise is strictly prohibited for the players. It's only Marmite - a bread spread - that Anand has specially sourced for the cricketers. But the chef has a solution to make the food interesting and has a variety on offer.
"Preventing the players from getting bored with food, we offer varieties like dhoklas, lemon sevai and other items that don't contain oil," Anand said.
Lunch and dinner is a mix of two cuisines to satisfy the taste buds of players from different parts of the world.
Asked how he makes the food tasty despite restrictions on ingredients, Anand said: "That's where experience comes in. We tweak the cooking a bit...For example cook slowly if the oil is less."
This time around there is sizeable number of vegetarian 'lions' in the Chennai Super Kings pride and Anand ensures they get the required amount of protein from lentils.
Asked if the food one eats can win matches, he said: "We provide the food that would give the stamina for the players to perform."
So with chef Anand's specially cooked food, cricket fans here hope the 'lions' will have the fire in their belly to devour the rivals.
The team's first outing will be against Deccan Charges here on Sunday.