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Libya takes own chef to Cup of Nations to prepare traditional north African dishes for players

01/19/2012 11:38 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT
BATA, Equatorial Guinea - Libya's players will enjoy a taste of home despite being away at the African Cup of Nations.

Tunisian chef Salah Mrad will prepare halal meat and traditional north African dishes such as couscous and chicken meshui to ensure the squad has a familiar diet at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Rice, pasta, fresh fish, fruit and vegetables will be staple dishes rustled up by Mrad, who told The Associated Press that he has also brought bags of mixed spices like cayenne and paprika for flavouring.

"The idea is to give the players the food they like to play well and everything is prepared according to the (team) doctor's recommendations, especially on match day," Mrad said. "I've worked with the team for several years now, so I know what they like. Their favourite is couscous, but that's not so good for match day."

Libya opens the African Cup against co-host Equatorial Guinea on Saturday. They later play Group A matches against Zambia and Senegal.

Mrad has taken over the kitchen at the new hotel in the coastal city of Bata, where the squad is staying.

"I was amazed by the facilities here, because everything is new — nothing has been used before," Mrad said. "Usually kitchens are a big jumble."

Before the players' first training session at the 37,500-capacity Bata Stadium on Thursday, Mrad was busy at work preparing a nutritious lunch.

Fresh vegetables including carrots, onions and peas were being cleaned and diced, while the chef himself chopped fish steaks with a cleaver.

"Today, the food is fish or chicken, and rice — very good for energy," Mrad said as melon and papaya were being sliced for dessert.

In one corner of the kitchen, several bags of brightly coloured spices were heaped, while a nearby shelf bowed under the weight of about 25 bags of couscous, each weighing a kilogram (two pounds).

Mrad said the equipment in the kitchen was sufficient to make most of the dishes, though he has brought some utensils of his own, including a "cass-cass" — a two-tier pan used to prepare couscous.

Flavoured lentils, stock cubes and parboiled rice have also been brought in, along with a green plastic basin filled to the brim with a special powdered spice mix.

Those ingredients are a far cry from the fare offered in Bata's restaurants where street cats, stray dogs, antelope, snake and porcupine are widely available.

The hotel's regular chef is Ibrahim Nchare, who is from Cameroon. Two Equatorial Guinea cooks, plus a handful of support staff, complete the kitchen's crew.

"I'm learning some new dishes and it's very interesting to see the way the different spices are mixed and used," Nchare said. "He (Mrad) can shout a lot when he's stressed, but that's normal. It has been a very good experience.

"The players eat everything, so they must be enjoying it."

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