Q & A With Former Royal Family Chef Darren McGrady, Part 2: Cook and Tell
The Royal Family's 20th Century Party Portrait With McGrady
In the first part of our interview with Darren McGrady, former private chef for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and later Princess Diana, the chef was sharing why he turned down a job as Prince Charles' chef (Camilla), as well as why he's so active in charitable projects today (Diana). And why he's not particularly keen on Prince Charles becoming the next king ("Charles should really step aside, I think."). But that's not to say McGrady is a Royal Family gossip monger. Far from it. He's all too happy to maximize the current William and Kate SEO frenzy simply for his cookbook sales -- 100% of which go to charity. A reminder of holiday generosity at its finest.
Turn the page for more on the Royal Family's kitchen (it's more than a mile from the dining room), personal dining habits (stale high tea cake is just fine - expected, actually - for the Queen) and the current state of royal horse feed. And check back later this week for the Royal Family's Victorian era chocolate cake recipe. We promise to give you the freshly baked version.
McGrady Today, On The Dallas Party Circuit
Squid Ink: We left off with this thought from McGrady...
Darren McGrady: I think with William and Kate, the [overall feeling in the Royal household] is going to be a lot more casual because William got that casual side from Diana. William still knows all of the Royal Family traditions, and yes, he does have to participate in the formal side of things like the Royal Ascot. But I do think William and Kate will be more normal, or as normal as can be when you're part of the Royal Family. And actually right now, William is much more popular than Charles. Charles should really step aside, I think.
SI: Why is that?
DM: If the Queen lives to be 101 years old like her mother, and Charles doesn't step aside, we won't have William on the throne until he's 65 years old. But the [British] people want them now. That's important.
SI: To charitable giving, to morale, as you mentioned earlier. Speaking of the Queen, you actually started out cooking for her, not Diana?
DM: Yes, my first job was peeling carrots in the kitchen for the Queen's horses, then I eventually became Senior Chef.
SI: You say in the book that she was very formal, in terms of eating habits. "If the boys were visiting granny and wanted ice cream, the Queen would call her page, who in turn would call the head chef. The head chef would call the pastry kitchen and the pastry chef would call the silver pantry for dishes to present it on." And so on. The carrots had to be a certain size and cut for her horses, too?
DM: Yes, and peeled. Her horses never ate anything but peeled carrots. I learned that quickly.
SI: There are some funny moments in the book, like at one of the holiday homes when the Queen's twelve Welsh corgis would suddenly stampede into the kitchen at one so you knew she was about to sit down for lunch. You had to cook and serve with the dogs running around under your feet, couldn't swat them away because the Queen would hear them yelp.
DM: [Laughs] Yes.
SI: What sorts of things did the Queen like to eat? In the book, she sounds very particular for some things like French food, but then frugal -- like she insists on being served the same cake at tea time several days in a row, so as not to waste any.
DM: The cuisine at [Buckingham Palace] was traditional French and British food. Rich cooking -- quenelles, a champagne mousse, heavy cream sauce with saffron, lobster. All of that heavy French Escoffier cuisine. People would always ask why didn't the Queen get fat. She ate small portions. And if you have twenty chefs, you of course can eat small portions of a lot of different dishes, so that helps. And it was all very formal dining.
SI: You mention the "menu book" that the Queen used to order meals. Was it really that much like a hotel, cooking there?
DM: In a way, yes. The Queen liked a simple breakfast, and that never really changed so it was easy. But lunch and dinner were always more involved. The Queen had a red leatherbound menu book, and she would write down three days of meals if you were lucky. Lunch, then you had tea, then dinner. She would put a line through the courses she didn't want, or she add in new ones if Prince William was coming, maybe write in one of his favorite meals.
SI: So you might be caught without those last-minute ingredients.
DM: Yes, but we knew what to have on hand. If the Queen moved to another location, the bulk food was packed up and went with her. The kitchen itself was more than a mile from the dining room, so all the food had to be carted on hot trolleys every day. It was like running a military operation, really, cooking in that kitchen.
SI: And Diana?
She was the opposite [of the Queen]. Diana would do a week of menus, and she'd never stick to them. She'd pop her head around the kitchen door and say I'm having six people for a charity lunch, or that Elton John or George Michael were now stopping by for lunch in an hour. And we'd say alright, and that was that.
SI: You must have cooked from some really old family recipes with all the history in that kitchen.
DM: Yes, you know, it was a family. They like certain things, just like any family. The chocolate cake [in the book] was the royal family recipe dating back to Queen Victoria. But recipes were passed down by the chefs, really, not the Royal Family, as they were of course too busy to pass recipes down over the generations. Like the chocolate cake, it was the one Queen Victoria's chefs made for birthday celebrations, so down the line that recipe just became the cake that was made for all birthdays, all celebrations. It's actually the base for the yule log recipe, you just roll it out differently. That's really it.
Check back later this week for the Royal Family's chocolate cake recipe, the holiday yule log edition.
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