Chef Alexandre Mazzia on Sustainability, the French Culinary Scene and Cooking for the Paris Olympics

Chef Alexandre Mazzia originally hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and incorporates elements of his childhood cuisine into his food.

Chef Alexandre Mazzia. Matthieu Cellard

France is in the midst of preparing for the Summer Olympics, which will take over Paris and several other cities from July 26 through August 11, 2024. It involves a lot of coordination, including how to feed the 10,500 athletes who will compete in the games. Event management and catering company Sodexo Live has been tasked with preparing 40,000 meals in the Olympic Village, with the help of top French chefs Akrame Benallal, Amandine Chaignot and Alexandre Mazzia. Mazzia, who helms the three Michelin-starred AM par Alexandre Mazzia, will bring his dishes to the Village two days a week throughout the Olympics. 

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“What’s exciting about hosting the Olympic Games in France is that it’s the first time, apart from the Winter Games in Albertville,” Mazzia tells Observer. “It’s about showing off all our [expertise] and all our values, such as gastronomy and French-style hospitality, which I think is important.”

More specifically, Mazzia is excited to display the culinary scene of Marseille, where he has run his restaurant since 2014. The city is known for its seaside location, as well as its proximity to the mountains and to the Provence region. “This mixed city is a major crossroads between Africa and Europe, with its very important port,” Mazzia says, adding that he’s looking forward to embracing “all the values of sharing” throughout the Olympic games. 

Mazzia originally hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and incorporates elements of his childhood cuisine into his food. The chef is known for his inventive dishes, which he will translate into meals intended to fuel high-profile athletes. It’s a challenge that excites Mazzia, who is already deep in preparation for the games. Observer spoke with Mazzia about cooking for the Olympic Village, putting Marseille’s flavors on display to the world and what success means to him. 

Alexandre Mazzia. Matthieu Cellard

How were you selected to be part of the culinary team for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games? 

The selection was made in parallel with the [Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games] and Sodexo Live, who approached me to find out if I would be up for taking part in developing the recipes and collaborating with them for the Olympic Village. I learned that many people had submitted applications, and I was selected following a phone call.

How are you preparing for your role at the Olympics?

I prepared in several stages, working with nutritionists and sports doctors, physical trainers, mental trainers and also with different disciplines to get as much information as possible on performance and on recovery. My role in the Olympic Village is, as of today, to develop 10 or so specific recipes that will be on hand in the Olympic Village for the athletes of all the disciplines. I’ll be creating recipes in the restaurant’s style that will showcase our region and our unique [expertise]—our French savoir-faire—for the duration of the games, every Sunday to Monday.

Lobster, scallop, watercress and other dishes at Mazzia’s Marseille restaurant.

Is it a challenge to feed athletes?

There are performance challenges. You also need important nutritional qualities. You need to be able to adapt to any type of discipline, but also to have the particularity of that discipline that can correspond to all athletes throughout the world, of any nationality. So that means [grains], a little meat and fish, but also paying attention to glycemic and protein intake, so it’s very important. 

Creating dishes is a real challenge because it really means making ourselves available to the athletes for the duration of the games. It’s not Alexandre Mazzia who comes to the Olympic Village; it’s Alexandre Mazzia who serves the Olympic Village. It’s the athletes who have the leading role and who are the first customers, so we have to be at their service. But above all, we have to add great value to their performances during the games, and also to their recovery. There’s also the pleasure aspect—the fun aspect that the athlete will have during the games, which is really something very important and which has a psychological and mental impact during the preparation for the games.

Tail and clip of blue Lobster smoked and burn, watercress, herbaceous shells, head juice clip,Marinated Scallop, smocked cress, beetroot, scallop milk and granité ,Razor clams, puffed barley, salty and seaweed condiment, egg nog David Gira.jpg
Preparation is key. David Gira

Will you try to showcase ingredients and dishes from Marseille or from Africa?

We’re going to show the typical Marseille flavors through the natural salinity of its marine environments, with ingredients like hake and pollock that comes with this smoked fish milk and chickpeas. Of course, we’ll be borrowing from the rich resources of French gardens, with chickpeas, broccoli, green beans, sun-drenched produce and products that are in season but also local. There will also be Africa with its roasting, spices and chili, which are important influences in my cooking. They’ll be represented in a playful way, not in a showy way. 

How will sustainability impact what is served during the Olympics?

Considering the impact of sustainable development is very important, because we have to bear in mind the carbon footprint and make sure that the products come from a local environment less than 250 kilometers [155 miles] from Paris, which is something the games are keen to do. There is also the way in which these products are recycled, and the way in which water is treated during the games, because there will be crockery and fewer disposable products, which is very important for us. 

[This is also] what we do in the restaurant. The traceability of the products and the way they are brought in is very important to me, and knowing how this was going to be handled was an important question in agreeing to work with [the Olympics]. 

Alexandre Mazzia. David Girard

Are you planning to attend any of the games?

Let’s just say that my mission during the games is, above all, to serve the athletes. I know that I’ve already got two places in the final of the Olympic games for basketball. That’s fantastic. They’re well aware of my love for the sport, which has also been an important part of my life. And then the rest will come as we go along. I’m sure my calendar will be full because every Sunday and Monday, I’ll be in the Olympic Village serving lunch and dinner. And I’ll be back [in Marseille] on Tuesdays because my restaurant is open from Wednesday to Saturday.

How do you think the culinary scene in France is evolving?

Generally speaking, I think there’s a whole generation who understands that you simply have to be yourself and do what you love. Doing what you like to do without copying what someone else is doing, which is no mean feat. Because at one point, there was a standardization of cuisine in France. This new generation is taking responsibility for itself and these chefs are fully aware of the need to be able to realize who they are through their roots. I think that France is, for me, in terms of diversity but also in terms of creativity, the leading country in the [culinary] world. 

Which chefs in France are particularly exciting to you at the moment? 

What I admire about France is its tenacity, which means that I’m not someone who really has unwavering admiration for others. But I think I still admire those who have been our masters of thought, like Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Bras, Olivier Roellinger and Alain Passard. These are people who, for me, have had an importance in their vision of things.

AM par Alexandre Mazzia, the chef’s restaurant in Marseille. Matthieu Cellard

Why should travelers to France visit Marseille?

It’s a town rich in crafts and it’s also a town rich in its urban area. You’ve got the seaside, but you’ve also got the hills. We’re close to the Luberon. That creates an impression and a luminosity that’s just extraordinary. There’s also an incredible depth in Provence, culturally speaking, which means that when you go to the Hautes-Provence area, it’s just fabulous. I think that tourists who come to Marseille will discover an incredible city and a fabulous region.

What does success mean to you at this point in your career?

There’s no real success here. It’s just a continuation of work that’s been going on for many years. And I think that the way of looking at things was a bit different before, or the way of operating was different before. Today it’s part of a collective vision. Success is the fact of being just what you are with complete transparency, but with passion. [My cuisine] is a unique cuisine. It’s so personal that I don’t think anyone else can do it. So that’s why people from all over the world want to discover it, why we’ve won all these awards and why these awards represent our know-how. 

What was the last great meal you had?

The last memorable meal I had was last week with my kids and wife. We cooked carrots over an open fire with barbecued fish and a drizzle of olive oil. And I made a grenobloise [sauce], but in my own way, with peanuts, tarragon, coriander, chives, a little lemon juice and grapefruit juice.

Chef Alexandre Mazzia on Sustainability, the French Culinary Scene and Cooking for the Paris Olympics