The French Connection: chefs' cycle voyage to Paris
Hot on the heels of the Olympics, chef Paul Merrett joined teammates Charlie, Greg and Marek for a cycling adventure from London to Paris - all to raise money for our work with torture survivors. Head Chef at The Victoria restaurant in London and Freedom from Torture supporter Paul blogs here about their sporting challenge.The year 2012 has seen British sport reach heights seldom witnessed by the population. Our cricket team were named the top Test team in the world, we had the cheek to win the Tour de France, our Olympic and Paralympic achievements were off the scale and then Andy Murray did that most un-British-sportsman-like thing of winning a tennis tournament. As if all of that was not glory enough...now to top it all, there is news of the finest sporting prowess this country has ever known: four unfit fat blokes cycle to France. Way back in early 2012 I was having an after-work beer with my sous chef Charlie. We were discussing our growing interest in cycling which had started the year before when we decided to commute to work. Charlie mentioned that he would quite like to take on a cycling challenge. I suggested we do the London to Brighton bike ride: 50 miles, a couple of hills and a double portion of fish and chips at the finishing line. Charlie nipped off for a fag whilst I got two more pints of beer in and some crisps. On his return Charlie rejected my offer of a Brighton cycle as a little lightweight, claiming that what two primed athletes like us needed to do was the more serious London to Paris cycle ride. That's not serious Charlie, that's insane – no way will I ever even consider such a ridiculous idea We left last Wednesday and got back four days later........ It all started at Blackheath at 6am on Wednesday 6 September. By this point our team had doubled in size. Myself and my sous chef Charlie Boyce were joined by my business partner Greg Bellamy and our restaurant manager Marek Holcik. We had decided that we would like to make our ride a little more worthy than a two-wheeled beer-drinking tour of France so we all agreed that a charity angle was required. I have worked fairly closely with Freedom From Torture over the years. My input to date has always been food based (no surprise there!) and as I got to know the charity better and to understand its aims and challenges, I have become more and more passionate about this particularly essential work. So Freedom from Torture became our chosen charity and by the time our bike wheels had completed their first revolution we had raised a staggering £8,000 – this is, without a doubt, the most worthy, decent thing I've ever done in my life (and, frankly, I now feel that I need never help an old lady across the road again!) So once the team was organised and the charity was agreed, we had to push on with the project. Next up was the purchase of four bikes capable of getting us to Paris. This is where my cut-throat, capitalist business partner Greg really came in to his own. He pulled off the biggest 'Bicycles for Food' deal ever seen along the Upper Richmond Road. Four shiny new bicycles were swapped for a tiny bit of cash and the promise of lots of free lunches in the contra-deal of the year. The final month before departure was spent training intensively. Afternoons were filled with timed laps around Richmond Park in a vain attempt to convince ourselves that we could pull off this sporting folly.