He might be the England team’s trusted chef now, but Omar Meziane did not expect his first assignment with the country’s best footballers to last long.
“It was a rainy Sunday night when I got a call from the FA saying: ‘We’d love you to go to South Korea with the under-20s.’ About a week later I was on an aeroplane,” he recalls.
“I said to my wife and son: ‘Look, don’t worry – it’s England, I’ll be home soon.’ Forty-five days later, we were in a World Cup final and we won. It was incredible.”
Meziane’s contribution to England’s most notable international success at any age group since 1966 earned him more than just the medal that he now treasures.
He was soon promoted to cooking for the senior squad and, the following year, found himself part of another expectation-defying run at a major tournament.
“I was incredibly fortunate to go to the World Cup in 2018,” says the 40-year-old, who has also catered for racing drivers, rugby players and even the Spice Girls.
“It was arguably the toughest 55 days of my life, because of the workload and the pressure I put on myself. But it was also the greatest 55 days of my life.
“There are only a few people in the world who can say they’ve sat on the England team bus driving to a World Cup semi-final, with Jordan Pickford sat behind you rocking your seat. Truly amazing experiences.”
I asked for 30kg chicken – it came live
Meziane raves about Russia – the people, cuisine and sushi at the Ritz Carlton next to Red Square – but cooking for elite sportspeople while on the road can be riddled with challenges.
In South Korea, he admits the language barrier and unfamiliarity of the food made sourcing ingredients “a real struggle”.
Then there was the time, in another far-flung destination, that Meziane’s order for a bulk batch of poultry got lost in translation.
“I asked for 30kg of chicken, which I got – but it was 30kg of live chicken,” he laughs.
“I don’t have a problem with it, but I don’t have time to sit and despatch and then pluck these chickens.”
Meziane describes his style as heavily influenced by Asian flavours, his North African heritage and food trends.
But while getting the right ingredients is one thing, winning over an England squad accustomed to the flavours of previous staff is another.
“I remember putting on what I thought was an incredible Persian spinach soup,” he says.
“Joe Hart came up to me with a bowl of this bright green, really perfumed soup, saying: ‘What. The hell. Is this?’.
“That soup never went back on the menu after that.”
Meziane’s head-in-hands moment
Meziane began life as a chef at London’s Oxo Tower in the mid-90s and has been working in sport for 15 years, since joining boyhood club Wycombe Wanderers.
He has worked at Wasps and Harlequins, written a book with former England rugby star James Haskell, fuelled British Rowing’s Rio 2016 Olympic campaign, and designed menus for the England cricket team’s 2013 Ashes tour.
More recently, he has taken on private cheffing for a number of Chelsea footballers and racing drivers, some in Formula 1.
And it is when Covid-19 abruptly halted that work last year that he began the process that led to his new business idea.
“Initially it was a head-in-hands moment of ‘what on earth are we going to do here?’” he says.
“Then I decided: there’s a huge number of professional athletes out there who still need my services. So I’m going to try and put food into a box and send it to them.”
What is Tweakd and how does it work?
By sending nutritionally optimised frozen meals to his clients, Meziane realised he could open up his offering to a much wider audience.
Later this month he will formally launch a new service, Tweakd, with best friend and long-term collaborator Mike Naylor, head of nutrition at the English Institute of Sport.
“We want to change the way the whole industry operates,” he says. “We want to show that ready-to-go food doesn’t have to be chicken and broccoli.”
Meziane says Tweakd is not just aimed at those with specific fitness goals or City high-fliers, but anyone looking to eat better.
Customers will be able to input desired outcomes, such as healthier bones or better sleep, and then choose from a range of meals to be delivered to their home.
Packages covering three, four and five days a week are available for £29.97, £37.96 and £44.95 respectively.
The food itself will be true to Meziane’s trademark style and will include his take on a chicken katsu curry, a favourite among the England team.
A sample tasted by City A.M. included a lip-smacking Asian chilli beef, zingy salads and delicious juices.
“The food you’ll be able to buy from Tweakd is exactly the same as I cook for professional athletes on a daily basis,” he says.
“We are taking what we’ve spent 15 years accomplishing in professional sport and trying to offer a product that everyone can eat.”
No more sneaking off to McDonald’s
Meziane says today’s sportspeople have much greater appreciation of eating the right foods than when he started out.
“When I joined Wasps the menu was chicken breast, tomato sauce and pasta. That was about as exciting as food in sport got at that time,” he says.
“Now there’s a level of education that days of sneaking off to McDonald’s have kind of disappeared.”
Meziane hopes Tweakd can now have a similar effect on the wider population.
In time, he would like to see supermarkets stock his range. The goal is to allow Joe Bloggs to eat like Harry Kane.
“We’ve worked very hard over the last 15 years to try to make food king,” he concludes. “Now we want to take those experiences and feed the world.”
Find out more and sign up for updates ahead of Tweakd’s launch at www.tweakd.uk