Qui a mangé tous les pies?

Roughly translated: has Raymond Blanc, the French chef now on Arsenal's books, created a recipe for disaster for Britain's football fans?
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The Independent Online

The windswept concrete terraces have disappeared, together with the brown leather ball, flat cap and wooden rattle. Nowprepare to say goodbye to the final relic: the pie.

For football supporters, the dish du jour has traditionally been a toss-up between the flaccid burger and the lukewarm steak and ale pie. But English football is going gourmet.

A number of Premiership clubs, led by Arsenal, Newcastle and newly promoted Sheffield United, have declared war on the fare long associated with Britain's national sport. When the Premiership season kicks off next Saturday afternoon, tens of thousands of fans will be enjoying lunch at the football as never before.

Arsenal, who will start their first season at the new Emirates Stadium, are the undisputed leaders in the food league. To underline their intent, the Gunners have even signed up a big-name international to captain their culinary team: celebrity chef Raymond Blanc. The Michelin-starred Frenchman will oversee the match-day menu at the stadium's elite Diamond Club, while in the stands a similar, high-quality food philosophy will also prevail.

Steve Brice, Arsenal's head of hospitality, revealed that even the club's traditional pies were to be prepared to newer, healthier recipes and would be sold alongside a greater selection of half-time snacks.

"The quality of the pies has increased for the new stadium," said Mr Brice. "Even the hot dogs have moved on from frankfurters to authentic German bockwurst. It's all part of the whole match-day experience - and the food is a key part of that environment."

Blanc, himself an ardent Arsenal fan, is taking his new role with the club very seriously. "People have often said that football and good food are a contradiction in terms, and I have had a few bad experiences myself, but a tremendous amount of effort has now been put into lifting the standards," said the chef.

There is a similar attitude at newly promoted Sheffield United, where local chef Jamie Bosworth opened a gourmet restaurant at the ground earlier this year. "I remember going to the match as a kid and eating soggy steak and kidney pie which we had to cover in sauce to make it edible," said Mr Bosworth, 34, a lifelong Blades fan. "Things are a lot different here now. We're dedicated to using fresh, local produce, and we're open for business all week long, not just match days."

Elsewhere, the trend has not quite taken hold yet. At Wigan Athletic, it's the old-fashioned meat pies all the way - right to the top. "The same pies that are sold in the kiosks are served in the boardroom," said spokesman Matt McCann. "When Chelsea played us, Jose Mourinho was so keen to eat his that he spilt pie juice down his expensive suit."

Additional reporting by Kiri Kankhwende

ON THE MENU

Raymond Blanc's Diamond Club menu for next Saturday's Arsenal match against Aston Villa

Mezze platter (set starter)

Sicilian tomato, mozzarella and basil salad

Pickled girolles with grelot onions

Organic Glenarm salmon confit with horseradish cream and marinated cucumber

Slow-cooked Devonshire lamb shoulder with smoked aubergine and kalamata olives

Main course

Roquefort soufflé and summer vegetables

Icelandic cod, niçoise potatoes, sauce vièrge

Duck confit and spiced cassoulet

Dessert

Iced vanilla and blackcurrant vacherin

Chocolate feuillantine

Red fruit crumble, vanilla ice-cream

Balsamic vinegar chocolate

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