John Benson-Smith joined Manchester City Football Club as consultant executive chef after the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He works alongside contract caterer Lindley at the club, recently bought by a consortium of Abu Dhabi oil billionaires. He spoke to Neil Gerrard.
Caterer Do you work directly for Lindley?
John Benson-Smith I represent the club's interest. I don't work for the caterer but with them. In football that is not common. I spend eight days a month in the stadium typically. But I have been working with the guys for years, so I am no longer the tyrant. There is a very good relationship between myself and the chefs.
Caterer What's it like working for the new regime at the club?
JBS I tend to shut my mouth, smile, get my head down and do my cooking. There is a different style of management but I think that we continue on the same mission as before.
Caterer Do you feel the pressure of catering for some of the richest people in the world?
JBS Yes, but I'm more bothered about the bloke in the stands with the hotdog. I am bothered about the quality of the hotdog, how long it has been sat in the water, and the quality of the defrosted bread. It has always irritated me that you end up with this two-tier attitude towards catering in football. We need to have the same attitude towards what goes on the football concourses as we do in the restaurants.
Caterer So have football fans' tastes changed?
JJBS No, but I am going to change it. Conferences and events and hospitality is one thing but if you really want to be scared you need to look at what goes on on the public concourses with hotdogs, burgers and beer. That needs a revolution. Those products need a nice fresh feel. And we need to have heating, flooring, places where people can sit. I think we are probably looking at the next 18 months to two years to revolutionise that.
Caterer How would you change things?
JBS I want to design my own pie. I want to know where the pastry comes from, what's in the pie, how many calories there are in it. There are big lads out there who like pies. I understand that half of them aren't interested in me waffling on about content. But I think we need to ensure that what goes into it is good. If you want to move away from your typical UK template football stadium catering to something really different, it is really hard. The logistics in a stadium are very interesting and demanding.
Caterer You have made a move towards healthier conference catering with more salads and "design your own" sandwiches. Why?
JBS I am not here all the time and I work for clients in Birmingham and London and so on. I get a good handle on fashions. I realised that conferencing was going to have to change. We had done very well but we needed to change what we were doing. Lots of conference food looks deep-fried and stodgy and by 3pm you start to nod off. I was aware that we needed to evolve - death to the onion bhaji.