Delicious tales from the Royal kitchens: Former Palace chef Darren McGrady reveals why you must never serve garlic to the Queen
21:30 GMT, 25 May 2012
For Buckingham Palace chef Darren McGrady, it was the most nerveracking culinary performance of his career. At Sandringham, the kitchen is next to the dining room – and anybody might open the door.
It was the early 80s and with 200 pancakes to make for family and staff, he was juggling six pans on the stove and flipping with a spatula. ‘Suddenly the Queen and Princess Margaret came in,’ he recalls.
‘The Queen went over to the larder to look at the Christmas hamper which had arrived from Harrods. Princess Margaret stood watching me, then said, “Lilibet, come and see this.”
The Queen inspects the table settings
The Queen said, “Isn’t that cheating Aren’t you supposed to toss them” So I started tossing them. It was like a royal command performance. They both laughed and the Queen said, “Bravo!' Darren, 49, was a Buckingham Palace chef for 11 years, before becoming Princess Diana’s chef during the last four years of her life.
He started in 1982, when he was 20, the most junior of 20 cooks in the
Buckingham Palace kitchens, although he had already risen to chef de partie saucier (head sauce chef) at the Savoy.
‘One of my first jobs at Windsor Castle was peeling carrots for the horses,’ he remembers. ‘Putting them in little bags for the groom to put in the Queen’s riding-jacket pocket. The Queen must have thought carrots grew in that pocket…’
If Prince William is coming to tea, he likes chocolate biscuit cake…That’s the only cake that goes back upstairs again and again until it’s all gone
As he rose to become senior pastry chef, however, he was often responsible for meals at Windsor for a whole weekend. The chef’s suggestions are presented to the Queen in a menu book: two suggestions for each course, and she strikes a line through the one she doesn’t want, occasionally making her own suggestion to include a visitor’s favourite dishes.
‘If Prince Andrew is coming for lunch, his favourite is crme brle with Sandringham oranges [oranges simmered in sugar syrup]. If Prince William is coming to tea, he likes chocolate biscuit cake,’ says Darren. ‘That’s the only cake that goes back upstairs again and again until it’s all gone.
Usually, the Queen takes a tiny, tiny sliver, then most of the cakes are
used for staff teas the next day. ‘If I wanted to try out a new dish, I had to send up the actual recipe for the Queen to decide if she’d like it.
Once I suggested a Scandinavian pudding called Veiled Farmer’s Daughter – berries with a muesli topping – but I forgot to send up the recipe. I got a note back, saying, “Who or what are Farmer’s Daughters”’
Chefs prepare a state banquet at Windsor
The Queen is famously frugal – not mean, but she doesn’t like waste. One chef – who joined the Palace from the famous Michelin two-star restaurant Le Gavroche – used a whole lemon to create a garnish for Her Majesty’s smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. ‘The Queen actually sent the lemon back, saying, “This is a waste,”’ Darren recalls.
‘If Prince Edward had bagged a lot of pheasants at Sandringham and two or three breasts came back to the kitchen, they’d expect to see them on a cold buffet or turned into a terrine or pt the next day. They never wanted to waste anything they’d shot themselves; it seemed more personal.
If William and Harry, when they were younger, went out shooting rabbits, the rabbits were always boiled and served to the corgis. But it wasn’t just meat, it could be some berries that the Queen and Princess Margaret had
picked in the hedgerows; then you’d get a note, saying, “Please serve these tonight with clotted cream.”’
Of course, the Queen knows that accidents happen even in the best kitchens. One chef at Windsor Castle opened the oven too soon on a chocolate souffl. Rather than send it up, he let it drop on the floor. ‘It’s
not as wounding to your pride to say there’s been an accident, as admitting that your souff l was a disaster,’ Darren confesses.
Former Palace chef Darren McGrady has written a book about his years in the Royal kitchen
The Queen avoids garlic and very spicy foods, but dishes such as Coronation chicken – that you’d imagine she would be thoroughly bored of after 60 years – have become firm family favourites, he explains. Wherever
the Queen is in the world, she stops for tea.
‘Even if she’s on her own, there’s sandwiches with the crusts off, white and brown; plain scones one day, fruit the next; a whole ginger or chocolate cake or a honey and cream sponge and small cakes like chocolate clairs. She’ll only have one or two sandwiches and maybe a sliver of cake.’
Leftovers, however, rarely make it back to the Buckingham Palace kitchen, which is some distance from the private apartments. ‘Leftovers get eaten by the footmen,’ Darren reveals. ‘But at Sandringham or Balmoral, where the kitchens are conveniently nearby, then the chefs really dig in. Especially afterSunday lunch when we’d have our “board meeting”.
The Royal Family loves a traditional Sunday roast. The Queen likes the end piece of the joint. And so do I. It’s the tastiest. As soon as the family has finished eating, the chefs gather around the chopping board for roast beef and leftover roast potatoes – and that’s our board meeting.’
His royal CV has taken Darren to America, where he is now private chef to Mrs Dee Wyly, widow of a billionaire philanthropist in Dallas, Texas. But even now, he doubts the Queen has cooked a meal in her life.
‘But the Royal Family do like to barbecue and that’s the closest they come to cooking,’ he says. ‘We’d prepare most of the food in the kitchen. If Prince Philip decides he wants to cook fillet of beef, we’d marinate it ready for him to pop on the grill.
At the end of the meal, the Queen will rinse the plates, that’s her contribution. When I worked for Princess Diana, she’d occasionally cook a little something when she had friends over, maybe pasta with a sauce.
But that’s something the Queen would never do.’ And why should she, when she’s able to call on the expertise of such talented chefs as Darren
Eating Royally: Recipes And Remembrances From A Palace Kitchen by Darren McGrady is published by Thomas Nelson, 15.99.