Celtic’s Master Chef Winner chasing our 9th and 10th Michelin Star

WELL it’s done, it’s dusted, all settled. 12 months rolling, back in the old routine. 4 year contracts are so passe. Barely worth the parchment they’re scrawled on as it turns out.

Neil Lennon starts his second coming as Celtic manager. After weeks of bringing this soup to the boil we are now in a period of gentle simmering.

A backroom staff of John Kennedy, Damien Duff and Stevie Woods have confirmed a clear intention of continuation and stability. Here’s hoping.

As John Steinbeck said in The Grapes of Wrath “It’s a thing to see when a boy comes home.”

Peter Lawwell appeared with the ‘new’ manager on Friday afternoon. As Lennon beamed Lawwell played the part of cat who got his cream. In his eyes this is his ideal appointment. The rocky road of Brendan Rodgers can now be consigned to the history books.

Brendan and Peter rubbed each other up the wrong way. They didn’t find the perfect equilibrium in relationship required between footballing and operational balance. Dermot Desmond had to bang heads. Peter didn’t like that.

Peter Lawwell plays second fiddle to one man and he probably doesn’t even find that as palatable as a 6 course dinner at some Geneva UEFA discussion over who’s relevant and who’s not in the new world footballing order.

To Lawwell this is regaining control of his kitchen. The pesky chef with the Michelin stars and his gregarious pretensions above his station has gone. Yes the restaurant sold out but his production from locally sourced produce didn’t match up when he tried his Italian, French and Spanish themed midweek extravaganzas. The reviews of those were stinging.

The new chef does a basic rustic parish menu that keeps bums on seats but historically isn’t as locally renowned as Chef Rodgers, but those midweek European menu’s have occasionally resounded around the continent. A quality of cooking that Chef Rodgers couldn’t quite muster. Who can forget the Catalan experience? Rave reviews reverberated around the world.

This guy gets the core customers through the door but he gets the reviewers from abroad salivating and in turn mentioning this fine restaurant in despatches from Buenos Aries to Bishopbriggs.

The problem for some patrons is this Chef isn’t as demanding, his ingredients aren’t as expensive. He doesn’t demand enough of the owner’s budget to create his carte du jour. His skills away from his returning home have been questioned in England and in the Capital.

There have been mitigating factors. Down south the establishment was already in decline. Michelin star funding of old was now akin to a Little Chef.

In the Capital the initial success would have matched Auld Reekie’s famous Witchery but soon waned towards a Wetherspoon breakfast. However the Chef lost his creative forces when McGinn and McGeough joined burgeoning enterprises south of the border. Replacements in the main were lacking in comparison.

The east end of Glasgow is Neil Lennon’s domain, he knows his customers and he can produce plates that agree with the palate.

Chef Lennon is home. The back kitchen has had a massive makeover since that last sitting. In his initial probation period he’s found more advanced support staff than his last visit. Chef’s, wine waiters and front of house staff are altogether more London west end than what was Glasgow’s east end last time around.

Lennon has got to grips with this. Now it’s time to plan for the grand re-opening ‘under new management’ in July.

Lennon intends to incorporate the old style of service but he also intends to ruffle the feathers and blur the edges. Lay down his own style. His Kitchen, his rules, his personnel.

But who is in charge?

Lennon has returned with a slightly reduced reputation. The want for the job veers on desperate. In this desperation lies his weakness with the man who controls the purse strings. This man knows this. The return of the 12 month rolling contract shows signs of a return to the old ways.

Lennon needs a staff less bloated and full of pretension and a return to footballing pragmatism. His core group are wonderful and consistent but have been working breakfast, lunch and dinner too long to produce the culinary delights necessary for much longer without help.

They need the kitchen porters, commis chefs and sous chef’s to step up or ship out. Many have done sittings and the fodder has been found wanting, lacking and without enough quality to cover for the stars of the show.

So now for the new and out with the old. Too many cooks spoil the broth and some cooks are due to be retired and some replaced.

But what of the budget? If Mr Lawwell wants equal belly rubbing around SFA banquets as he does UEFA’s lavish gatherings the cash will have to be splashed. The savings can come from those jettisoned, those who didn’t quite hit the spot. Genuine quality in the kitchen to make sure every sitting is covered consistently well doesn’t come easy.

Neil Lennon has only a short time until opening night. The preparation, training and production is all he needs to be concerning himself with. Mr Lawwell’s strengths are in the budgeting. He also has one eye on the new hotel never mind the restaurant and the living quarters.

The man Lawwell needs tempered or supported. This is where the real owner needs to step up.

Dermot Desmond should be considering a genuine restructure. If Peter Lawwell’s eyes are on alternative income streams like hotels, then the day to day footballing operations needs to move to a Head of House.

With the new chef should come a Human resources department and manager to match. Produce, equipment and core ingredients sourced and supplied.

Basic requirements outlined by the chef and sourced by the head of HR. Hire and fire and replace with suitable staff ready to develop under the tutelage of Chef Lennon. This appointment should be immediate.

Lennon himself has little more than 4 weeks to work hand in hand with a new head of recruitment before his own focus should move exclusively to training the staff in the new summer menu.

The customers themselves know they are happy with the Scottish menu, it’s consistent and it’s quality, but recently it’s been tiring.

They now expect the return of European dishes of a suitable standard to feast upon. Familiarity breeds contempt. A little bit of je ne sais quoi brightens the experience.

The new chef is in post, everyone knows he needs the staff and the ingredients to take his creations to the European markets. Only the board can stop this progression through minimalising investment.

If Lennon can’t pressure his employer to fund the staff and ingredients to take the restaurant to the next stage, then the reviewers and customers must. Every food critic among the online commentators must pull together and hold the management to account.

To quote the late great Bill Shankly, “at a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.”

Everyone had a different choice of chef. Now he’s standing at the stove. All the shareholders in this fine establishment need to hold the management to account. Expansion to hotels can wait. A 9th and 10th Michelin star cannot.

Niall J

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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