Chef Paul Heathcote takes over catering at Bolton Wanderers' Reebok Stadium
PAUL Heathcote knows a thing or two about food and football.
The award-winning chef — who has had his own string of successful restaurants — has been involved in stadia catering at clubs including Preston North End and Liverpool.
And then there is the not unimportant matter of having supported Bolton Wanderers since he was aged just six, when his very first memories of match food at Burnden Park with his great-grandmother were Bovril and Wagon Wheels.
So to be in charge of catering at Wanderers, including the renamed Bolton Whites Hotel, is perhaps a logical move in the career of this popular celebrity chef.
Not that he has come in like a hurricane at the Reebok, slinging out matchday pies and chips and insisting the fans nosh on braised beetroot and sour cream.
The canny chef is taking his time to get everything right although, as he insists: “I think the fans might be already seeing some differences, like the service and I’ve smartened up the staff.”
He is not even looking at the pie situation until the New Year.
“I still want to make this place the best,” he says.
“But I think I’ll be tweaking things at first, making changes gradually.”
Aged 51, Paul has certainly come a long way since he started cooking for his dad Ken and sister Karen when mum Brenda was working shifts “and someone had to make the tea”.
In fairness, the Farnworth lad had always been interested in cookery.
At Turton High School, he was one of six boys who joined an after-school domestic science class.
“Then, lads were all about cricket and football and if you liked cooking they thought you were a wimp,” he laughs.
“Thank goodness things are a bit different now.” He graduated to studying catering at Bolton Technical College before honing his skills in a career that took him to Switzerland, the famous Sharrow Bay Hotel at Ullswater, London’s Connaught in Mayfair and the legendary Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
He and his restaurants have won all the culinary awards going, and in 2009 he was awarded the MBE for services to the hospitality industry in the North West.
Throughout all this time, one constant — apart from his family and his businesses — has been his love of Bolton Wanderers. He has been a regular at home matches and is happy to admit that taking over the catering there is one of his dreams.
However, he is rather concerned that his work may affect his hobby “and I definitely don’t want that,” he said.
Two matches in, what he has already achieved is improvements to staff service and training.
“I strongly believe in working to support staff to improve standards,” he says.
And when you consider that there are 440 staff on match days, serving on an occasion like the forthcoming Leeds’ game, 1,800 hospitality meals and catering for about 15,000 fans, it is easy to see that this is a huge task.
Paul, however, is only interested in employing people with the same passion for good catering and service he has.
There are some food changes already visible — like the introduction of lighter, healthy alternatives alongside the butternut squash soup and the braised beef steak pie in hospitality and lounge menus.
He has also added a selection of international fare and insists on using ingredients that support local and regional businesses.
He is also ensuring the hot dogs for the fans are 96 per cent meat.
“They definitely needed improving,” he shudders.
Stadia catering is something he has long discussed with that other famous football fan and celebrity chef Delia Smith.
In fact, Delia consulted Paul about the catering at her beloved Norwich City when he was involved at Preston.
His hopes for Heathcote & Co, the hotel and the Reebok are as heady as his desires for his team.
“I’d love to see pop concerts here again and international events like the Rugby World Cup,” he says.
“We have to persuade promoters and artists that this is a great place, that we’ve got it right.
“First of all, though, he has to persuade the fans that matchday catering will not change substantially. You can’t really alter football food,” says Paul, bluntly.
“People have tried that many times and failed.
“You’ve always got to have pies, beer, Coke and coffee — they’re the staples.
“As for the Bovril and Wagon Wheels. Well, the Bovril is still a given, but I like the idea of a dessert made around Wagon Wheels.
“It’s just toasted meringue, you know, with a biscuit base … perhaps with a hot chocolate sauce. I’ll work on that one,” he promises.
Then for Bolton Wanderers’ latest signing, it is off to the kitchens once more to check that everyone is aiming for Premier League catering.
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