Inside a rental home in Latvia with a group of people he'd only met two months earlier, chef Jade Berg could no longer hold back his emotions.
It was the final stop of a journey with the Canadian luge team that had taken him from B.C. to Utah and finally eastern Europe, and the athletes handed him a thank-you card and a signed bib as a token of their appreciation.
"I was blubbering a little bit, trying to fight back tears like, 'Oh, come on guys.' And that was a real big surprise for me, the connection that we made together as a group and to just feel like I'm part of a team," Berg said.
Berg, who was born in Saskatchewan, grew up in High River, Alta., and currently resides in Campbell River, B.C., was hired in the fall by Luge Canada to serve as a private chef on the road.
Luge Canada isn't the first association to hire a private chef — if anything, you could question what's taken so long. But it's a step in the right direction for a team looking for its first Olympic podium appearance since 2018 and first-ever gold medal.
Berg, meanwhile, had never worked with athletes previously. He calls himself a forager and outdoor chef and he typically provides private services for wealthier clients.
"I had almost more intimidation going into this with [the luge athletes] than I would going out onto a millionaire's yacht," Berg said. "For whatever reason, I have them on this pedestal in my mind like, 'Oh they're like these high-performance athletes. Is my food gonna be good enough?'"
Berg, now 32, moved to B.C. at 18 with a healthy serving of resumés, a heaping dose of his parents' apprehension and a distinct lack of cash. He slept on park benches for a couple nights before connecting with an aunt who lent a couch.
Before long, Berg secured three jobs — two at restaurants and one at Tip Top Tailors. He slowly worked his way up in the culinary world until forming Wild Isle Cooking, his private cooking company.
The business hummed along until a back injury during the pandemic meant a sudden stop and a career move from the kitchen to the front seat of a tractor trailer. But Berg's passion for the outdoors and food was reignited when he was invited to join the show Chefs vs. Wild, which premieres in Canada on Jan. 25 on Disney Plus.
Through press for the show, Berg reconnected with a high-school acquaintance who'd seen Luge Canada's job posting for a private chef and thought it was the perfect match.
"Somebody that is willing to put financial success to the side to pursue passion is somebody that I really identify with and really connect with," Berg said. "So if I can support them while they are chasing their passion, it kind of gives me something that feeds my soul and gives me way more out of it than just cooking a meal."
Carolyn Maxwell, a Canadian luge athlete who has competed on the senior circuit since 2018, said Berg made an immediate difference.
"With Jade it was a lot better because we could kind of tell him what we needed. He was really good at making sure we had snacks throughout the day and that we always had what we needed nutritionally to get through the day," she said.
Maxwell said she and the rest of the team were previously restricted to the hotel offerings at different stops around the world. She said they'd be lucky to have the choice of a buffet meal as opposed to whatever was handed to them on a plate.
The hope now is that the team is better prepared for the world championships, which begin Friday in Oberhof, Germany. Live streaming will be available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem beginning at 7:26 a.m. ET.
Berg won't be present as the team couldn't find the proper accommodation.
Commitment to feeding athletes
But you can bet he'll be watching from afar, as he decided from Day 1 that he didn't want to be the personal chef that hid in the kitchen — instead, he wanted to be part of the team.
And so at every meet and every training session, there he'd be waiting at the finish line with nourishment, typically in the form of date bars.
"I wasn't going into meals just starving because I really hadn't eaten all day," Maxwell said.
As a result, she was able to better control both the quality and quantity of what she put in her body during the gruelling World Cup season.
Maxwell said her favourite meal from Berg was ginger beef since it is pure comfort food. But even though she's a self-proclaimed picky eater, she also enjoyed the beef heart curry Berg prepared in Latvia.
As Berg's initial intimidation blossomed into friendship, he quickly learned just how unglamorous life as a high-performance athlete can be, despite his prior misconception to the opposite.
Now, he's committed to making nutritious food easier to access for athletes.
"Whether it's maybe some beef farmers that I've worked with or fishermen or whatever it is, trying to get some sort of a food program together for these athletes has been like super high on my list," he said.
"Then I do some remote cooking classes to show them how we can utilize this, how we can get that same nutrition and take a little bit of a burden off of their plate — pun intended."
He's already looking forward to being back with the lugers next season.
"I couldn't see anything else."