San Diego to Beijing

Desserts, Dining Halls and Robot Cooks at the Winter Olympics

NBC 7's Steven Luke is in Beijing, China covering the 2022 Winter Olympics from Jan. 4th to the 20th.

Two different kinds of dessert are displayed at a buffet-style dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke

Tuesday, Feb. 8th:

🍰 Let’s talk food! It’s always one of the big questions people ask about when I cover the Olympics and obviously my answer changes depending on the host country and accommodations.

A nearly empty dumpling steamer sits on a buffet table in a dining hall in Beijing at the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
A nearly empty dumpling steamer sits on a buffet table in a dining hall in Beijing at the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022.

On this trip we’re staying in a pretty nice hotel with a free, buffet breakfast. Unlike Tokyo where we got tired of the hotel breakfast buffet on day two, this one is fairly legit with custom omelettes, lots of fruit (I like the dragon fruit) and baked goods.

A chef at a dining hall in Beijing makes breakfast for patrons at the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
A chef at a dining hall in Beijing makes breakfast for patrons at the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022.

I try to hit up the lobby buffet in the morning, but sometimes I just make coffee in my room and eat a protein bar to save time. Our hotel as two restaurants for lunch and dinner which are not free, but I’m not typically at the hotel during lunch or dinner hours, so it doesn’t really impact me.

An array of breakfast items such as eggs, dragon fruit and oranges are displayed on a breakfast plate, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
An array of breakfast items such as eggs, dragon fruit and oranges are displayed on a breakfast plate, Feb. 8, 2022.

Thankfully NBC has a big presence at the Olympics and we have our own cafeteria (most people call it the commissary) serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is a huge operation and the food is really good. As someone who isn’t afraid of going back for seconds, the commissary is one of my favorite parts of every Olympics. Since we don’t have much to do here in Beijing given the quarantine bubble, I’m doing my part to make sure the food doesn’t go to waste.

NBC staff sit and eat in the dining hall, known as the NBC commissary, at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
NBC staff sit and eat in the dining hall, known as the NBC commissary, at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.

The menu switches daily with steak, chicken, salmon, pork and other hot entrees as well as lots of sides. There are also constants like fries, pizza, burgers and paninis which I’m trying to avoid.

A man gives a thumbs up behind a food counter serving fried food like onion rings and fries at a dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
A man gives a thumbs up behind a food counter serving American-style food at a dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.

There is a salad, fruit and soup bar. I’m a sucker for the desserts though. I mean they’re just sitting there waiting for me. The commissary also has a row of coolers with drinks and two Starbucks coffee machines.

A woman walks by a row of drink coolers at a dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
A woman walks by a row of drink coolers at a dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.

You can take your masks off when you’re sitting and eating (obviously) but it’s still hard to have a conversation with any colleagues because the tables are all divided with plexiglass. You have to talk loud or repeat yourself a lot.

A group of four NBC employees, including NBC 7 anchor Steven Luke (upper right corner), gather for breakfast in a dining hall in Beijing at the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022.
Robbie Beasom/KNTV
A group of four NBC employees, including NBC 7 anchor Steven Luke (upper right corner), gather for breakfast in a dining hall in Beijing at the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022.

The food operation is one of the major logistical challenges for NBC which hires a San Diego based company, Behind The Scenes Catering, to run the show. I’ve done several stories with owner John Crisafulli over the years, but he is already back in San Diego. He actually tested positive for COVID-19, although he didn’t have any symptoms on his second day in the country and had to spend 17 days in a COVID- quarantine motel! A story for another time. There aren’t nearly as many people to feed at these games. I’ve heard about 650 NBC employees are here. During the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro back in 2016 NBC had about 3,500 people working the games. There were fewer in Tokyo last August because of the pandemic, but there were still thousands. The Winter Olympics always have fewer people, but this is a lean operation for sure.

Food is ready for patrons to eat at a dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
Food is ready for patrons to eat at a dining hall in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.

The other option for food at the International Broadcast Center is in the main media dining hall which is where all of the other journalists from around the world eat. You have to pay for the food here, so I haven’t used it yet. This dining hall is unique from other Olympics however because it uses robots to make and deliver the food. That’s right robots. There is a robot bartender, robot cooks, and robot cleaners. In one area your food gets dropped down from the ceiling to your table. It’s a wild scene straight out of the future and worth the trip to “robot watch.” I’d spend more time there, but I think the NBC commissary just put out more desserts.

A dining hall employee lines up trays in front of an automated food system in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.
Steven Luke
A dining hall employee lines up trays in front of an automated food system in Beijing, Feb. 8, 2022.

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