On your marks, get set, cook: One couple have set themselves an Olympic cooking challenge

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

After failing to secure any tickets for the Olympics, Jack Hemingway and Sarah Kemp decided to make up for it by eating a dish from all 205 competing nations. Gillian Orr salutes their golden idea.

When Jack Hemingway and Sarah Kemp failed to secure the tickets they wanted for the London Olympics (athletics for him, gymnastics for her), they decided to get involved in quite a different way. Both huge fans of the global sporting event, the couple planned to take on a challenge almost as intimidating as those facing the athletes themselves: they would eat a dish (whether home-made or in a restaurant) from every country that was entering the 2012 Olympics. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, they would sample a national dish, take photographs, and write about their experiences on their blog, Eat the Olympics.

"We just wanted to get into the home-turf Olympic spirit really; it's once in a lifetime," explains Hemingway, in their kitchen in north London, where they are specially preparing me Kuku Paka, a chicken and coconut curry with hard-boiled eggs, popular in Kenya. "I know people are moaning about how busy everywhere will be and how transport is going to be hellish, but it's three weeks of your life when people from all over the world come to London for a party."

While the couple, both 25, love cooking, and say they would happily pick a long dinner with friends over a night down the pub, it is definitely an extracurricular pastime. Hemingway is a designer and Kemp works in food PR (although she also runs another food blog in her spare time, Food for Think).

After getting the list of all 205 countries entering the Olympics, they were surprised (and a little embarrassed) to discover that there were a couple of places that they had never even heard of. They immediately took to the internet to discover more about each nation's cuisine and started to note down suggestions and potential recipes. Naturally, some countries are easier to research than others. "It's hard to know if you're being authentic with some of the more obscure countries, so it can be tricky," says Hemingway.

They started their challenge seven weeks ago – they've cooked around 60 dishes so far – but as the blog has grown in popularity, Hemingway and Kemp have found their readers are happy to help them in their quest. Someone sent them a Nepalese cookbook in the post. Restaurants specialising in far-flung cuisines, such as Peru and Argentina, have had them to dine as guests. People with pride in their national dishes have even tweeted suggestions at them.

As both have to hold down full-time jobs, they take a fairly relaxed approach to proceedings. Some weekends they will cook up to 15 meals, other times they will go a few days without making anything. With the dishes they are cooking themselves, they are aiming to do 75 per cent main dishes and 25 per cent desserts and puddings. Each meal is photographed and receives a ranking based on taste: gold, silver, bronze, and the dreaded "disqualified".

Alas, plenty have found themselves disqualified. Sweet-potato cake from Cameroon was deemed "inedible", while banana and peanut-butter biscuits from Vanuatu were treated with similar disdain. But it hasn't all been bad. The couple have discovered some wonderful dishes and learnt a huge amount about food from all around the world. Flan de Leche from El Salvador, Fijian grilled aubergine with coconut sauce, Chilean braised chicken with coriander, and lime meringue pie from the Ivory Coast are just some of the dishes that have been awarded the gold medal. Others have been more divisive, such as Albanian baked lamb with yoghurt, which Hemingway dismissed because the yoghurt had curdled into a cottage cheese-like substance, while Kemp thought it was actually rather tasty. "He's a designer so he likes things to look nice," she sighs.

Surprisingly, they've been able to get hold of everything they've needed, one of the joys of living in modern-day multicultural Britain, they say. "There's a great Ethiopian store on Brick Lane, and there's a big Asian community in Wembley so there are some brilliant Asian grocery stores. There's a Chinese supermarket quite near us too. There are these little pockets all over London," enthuses Kemp. "But we want people to be able to join in and try out the recipes so we are being careful about what we use. We don't want people to look at it and go, 'Oh we could never do that.'"

For something so ambitious, there have been few real disasters, say the couple. Except for the time Kemp almost burnt the kitchen down. "We were cooking short beef ribs which we were going to do for our United States entry," she recalls. "I heated vegetable oil in a pan and it cracked and went all over the hob and it went up in flames." They ended up baking a pecan pie for their American entry instead.

The main issues the couple have encountered – besides finding the time to fit it all in – is getting accurate recipes. "We do so much online and sometimes a recipe will be translated using Google Translate, so we can't be sure it's right," says Hemingway. "Sarah has trouble transferring all the measurements into grams and sometimes, because we're not familiar with the cuisine, it's hard to tell if we've done a bad job with something or if it's just horrible."

The couple hope to finish their challenge on the day of the closing ceremony, when they plan to invite friends and family over for a British feast. They're still undecided about what to make but have toyed with the idea of a traditional Sunday roast or fish and chips. Whatever they decide on, at least they won't have any trouble finding a recipe.

www.eattheolympics.com

Kuku Paka

Kenyan chicken and coconut curry with hard-boiled egg (Serves 4-5)

Ingredients:

1kg chicken breast, cut into pieces
1 large white onion, chopped
3 red chillies, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
50ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 can coconut milk
4/5 large free-range eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch coriander, chopped

Method

Add the onion, chillies, ginger and garlic to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add a little water if necessary.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add the onion puree, curry powder, coriander powder, chilli powder and cumin and sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until cooked down.

Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Then add the chicken, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through and tender, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Add more water as needed.

While the curry is cooking, hard-boil the eggs. Place the eggs in a pan and cover with two inches of cold water and bring the water to the boil. As soon as the water has reached boiling point, turn the heat off, cover and let the eggs sit in the pan for 12 minutes. Drain, run cold water into the pan and peel.

Stir in most of the coriander (leaving a bit to sprinkle on top), adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and serve with rice or chapati.

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players