“Throw the Welsh in there! Go for it!”
Ian McAndrew isn’t really recommending you hoist a Welshman. The chef and owner of the Brick-based Celtic Knot Fish and Chips Food Truck is trying to explain the geographic inclusiveness of the name. “When we use the word ‘Celtic,’ we’re trying to weave together people that identify as Scottish, Irish, English,” he explains. And sure, toss in some Welsh. (Historically speaking, they belong, too.)
McAndrew himself is a first-generation Scottish-American; his father, also named Ian, has run the Brick-based Cameron’s Scottish Foods since 1982. “He’s worked really hard his whole life,” says McAndrew. Like father, like son: McAndrew has worked at Cameron’s in some fashion since he was seven. He’d work out of a food truck during the summer, when Cameron’s would bring trailers with meat pasties to Scottish festivals up and down the East Coast. But where his father’s generation was doggedly Scottish—Cameron’s started in Kearny, and “for a number of decades, Kearny was Little Scotland”—for McAndrew, who’s happily married to a second-generation Irish-American, the future is Celtic.
The Celtic Knot isn’t McAndrew’s first foray into cooking. A self-taught chef, he ran White Heath fish and chip restaurant out of Cameron’s with his father from 2005 to 2010. “I used a lot of pre-made things,” he says. “I bought somebody else’s batter, somebody else’s chips.” The restaurant, no surprise to McAndrew, closed. After a brief sojourn (and a stint in Colorado law enforcement), he came home and tried again, first opening The Celtic Knot pop-up restaurant inside Cameron’s in 2016 “with a special focus on quality.” By summer 2017, they added a truck; by 2018, they went fully mobile.
Their timing was perfect. “A lot of Boomers are moving out of state,” McAndrew says of Cameron’s core customers. On the other hand, “not enough people in my generation are familiar with the more traditional items.” The food truck “helped us connect with a younger audience,” McAndrew says.
The name helps. “The whole ‘Celtic Knot’ thing is sort of a play on the explanation that was given when my wife and I got married,” says McAndrew. His wife Siobhan was “heavily influenced by Irish culture. Her folks really wanted her to marry Irish. When we made the announcement, her step-mother smoothed it over. ‘You know what? Everyone’s in the Celtic circle! It’s all good!’” The same could be said of the menu—everything’s in the Celtic “circle” (except the Haggis Nuggets, they’re Scottish and no mistake). “There’s so much overlap,” McAndrew responds when asked about the provenance of menu items like Mushy Pea Munchies and Tattie Tots (deep-fried cheesy mashed potato balls—“I could sell a whole other truck on them”).
There’s even overlap in who invented fish and chips. “You’ll get folks that tell you it’s English, Scots, especially older Scots, tell you fervently it’s a Scottish invention. Plenty of Irish tell you it’s Irish.” None of them are correct, he says. “Historically, it was actually created in England, but it was a Jewish dish.” (He’s probably right.) The same goes for corned beef and cabbage, the must-have of upcoming St. Patrick’s Day. “Yeah, it’s also a Jewish dish,” says McAndrew. (The Smithsonian agrees.)
He’s not trying to settle—or start—food fights. McAndrew uses his “Celtic” terminology to re-cast grossly misunderstood Irish-English-Scottish culinary worlds in one inclusive, overlapping, friendly-debate inspiring universe of flavors.
For St. Patrick’s Day, the truck will be parked at Pino’s Gift Basket Shoppe, Wine Cellar & Lounge in Highland Park. Of course, McAndrew isn’t going far off-script. “You have to roll with what a crowd wants,” says McAndrew. “I’ll tell everyone all day every day corned beef is a Jewish dish, but if that’s what the people want, that is what I’ll make.” (He’ll just put it on a slider roll with cabbage slaw or, at Cameron’s, stuff it into a Reuben Pasty.)
But March 17 is only one day. Going forward it’s all about expanding the “Celtic” brand, and not only in the food truck. McAndrew says that “2020 is going to be an exciting year for our family. That’s the year we take over Cameron’s,” indicating the takeover might involve a name change. “There’s a hidden treasure of Cameron’s unfortunately overshadowed by branding it simply ‘Scottish.’ We have customers from South Africa coming in for pasties. A lot of Welsh, a lot of English, Australians,” he says. “If it were branded more inclusively,” branded “Celtic,” for instance, “you might get other people to stop through the door.” With a little branding, and a little luck.Click here to leave a comment