How to eat like a queen
It’s back. The Crown, which has won more awards than you can shake a diamond tiara at, has returned for a third series and there’s been a change of the guard.
As the drama turns its attention to the early ’60s and the decade that followed it, we wave a fond farewell to Claire Foy and Matt Smith, and instead welcome Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies as they take on the roles of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
If you’re planning on celebrating by sitting on the sofa, TV on, with a banquet fit for a queen in front of you, we might just be able to help – thanks to a few words with former royal chef Darren McGrady...
While Darren wasn’t chef to the Queen and Prince Philip in the ’60s or ’70s, fast forward to 1982 and he was working in the royal household as a chef and after rising to the ranks of senior chef stayed with them until 1993. We spoke to Darren to find out what he served up – and learnt – throughout his time as a royal chef.
Less is more, well sometimes...
It’s an average day, you’re getting ready for work and you want a quick breakfast. What do you go for? Toast? Cereal? Well you’re not alone…
“If the Queen was at London, at the palace, she’d start the day with cereal. She’d have her own milk up there and she’d pour it from a container.
“For lunch, if she was on her own she wouldn’t have carbs; she’d cut out the potatoes, pasta and rice. She’d have something like grilled fish or chicken with salad and vegetables.”
So far, a very low-key menu, so it’s time to up the ante and go for afternoon tea. Luckily, Darren is experienced in creating them. He explains what a royal afternoon tea would involve.
“It would be scones, two types of cake – one large, maybe a chocolate cake or a honey and cream sponge, and a small one, maybe a raspberry tartlet or a chocolate éclair – and then two types of sandwiches.”
But after that indulgence you probably aren’t going to want a big dinner. “In the evening it would the same kind of thing as lunch – something light – if she was on her own that is. If she was entertaining it would obviously be a three-course meal.”
If you always go to the supermarket with a list and make sure you plan for the evenings, you’re in good company.
“We had a royal menu book and we would do three days’ menus at a time. So when you opened it, on the left would be lunch at the top with afternoon tea at the bottom of the page, and then on the right would be dinner. You’d suggest two dishes for each course and the Queen would put a line through the ones she didn’t want and if she was going to be out for dinner put a line through the whole page. If she was going to invite friends it would say ‘plus two’ or ‘plus three’.
Whether it’s herbs on the windowsill, tomatoes in a plant pot on the patio, or you have a garden that allows for a full-on vegetable patch, there’s nothing like creating your own dish with your own produce – something both Darren and, he says, the Queen, were very enthusiastic about.
When talking about his favourite dishes to make for the Queen, Darren explains: “At Balmoral the Queen had the most amazing garden and so they’d bring up all the vegetables and fruit. And for me to be in the kitchen making jams with the fraises des bois (little woodland strawberries) and jellies with the raspberries… we could make enough jam with the berries to last a whole year and we’d take it back to London and travel with it where we went.
“The venison from Sandringham – when that came in I’d make a beautiful Gaelic steak with whisky and mushroom cream sauce. It was one of the Queen’s favourites. Then we’d take some parsnips from the garden and make mash with them and other root vegetables. That, for us chefs, was so much fun. To the Queen that was luxury, to be able to have all of those ingredients from your own garden. And she’d like to let the guests know the salmon had been caught by the Queen Mother”.
Can’t get enough of artichokes? That’s OK! Celebrate when you’re served up a sardine? That’s OK too! Everyone has favourite dishes and, according to Darren, during his time as a royal chef the Queen was no different.
“The Queen loves chocolate, so on the menu we’d put anything to do with chocolate. Chocolate perfection pie was one of her favourite dishes. It’s layers of cinnamon cream and chocolate with a really crisp sugar pastry crust. She also liked chocolate mousse. So anything with chocolate and also any game from the estate she’d like. With the venison we’d do a red wine reduction and finish it with grated chocolate, which gives the red wine sauce a nice earthy flavour.
“The only thing we really had to stay away from for the Queen was garlic... If she was eating on her own or with guests, we didn’t use garlic in the meal, but if Prince Philip was eating on his own we would use it.”
Christmas is on the way, which means that we’re about to hear the phrase ‘because it’s tradition’ a lot. Back when Darren was chef for the Queen and Prince Philip, the same applied when it came to the kitchen.
“They would start off with a full cooked breakfast on Christmas Day. They opened their Christmas presents the day before, on Christmas Eve. So after breakfast they’d go to church, come back and go on to lunch. That was always roast turkey and all the trimmings.
“Usually it was homemade sage and onion stuffing, Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts, sometimes parsnips and carrots – it varied year to year – mashed potatoes and roast potatoes, homemade gravy, and then Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Later in the day there would be afternoon tea, and that always included a chocolate Yule log, a Christmas cake made by the chefs in the kitchen and a selection of chocolatey pastries.”
Did they participate in the Christmas tradition of hiding a coin in the pudding? “No we never did that! Ever since the Queen Mother choked on a fish bone that time… we were too nervous to do that.”
Traditions also applied to the Queen’s birthdays. “She’d have a chocolate ganache sponge (Genoese) cake. The recipe was actually created by a chef called Gabriel Tschumi, who was chef to Queen Victoria. That same recipe had been passed down through the royal family... and was still being used right up until I left.”
Politeness costs nothing
When you’re in the office and someone makes you a cup of tea or a friend invites you for dinner and spends hours preparing the dish they know you love, you always remember to say thank you, right? Well, Darren was on the receiving end of these two simple words – and it meant a lot to him.
“Being at Sandringham and seeing the Queen walk past the window after you’d cooked for her all weekend and turn to say ‘thank you’, that was most rewarding and as a royalist, that meant so much.”