‘I Was Queen Elizabeth II’s Chef, Our First Encounter Was Unforgettable’

In 1981, I used to be working on the Savoy Lodge in London as a chef de partie saucier; making effective sauces and gravies. In July that 12 months, Prince Charles was getting married to Woman Diana Spencer and my mom was a giant fan of the royals. She advised we sleep the night time exterior Buckingham Palace to observe the marriage the next day. So we did.

Whereas I used to be there ready, I keep in mind pondering that I wished to be a royal chef. So I wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II once I obtained house. Not lengthy after I had an interview and shortly, I used to be working as a chef for the queen. However I moved from being chef de partie saucier proper all the way down to being chef quantity 20 of 20 for the queen. My first job was truly peeling carrots for a horse.

I keep in mind pondering: What on earth am I doing? I used to be peeling carrots for the groom to return to take and put within the queen’s driving jacket pocket, so she might feed a horse on the finish of her trip.

Darren McGrady with considered one of Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis within the ’80s.
Darren McGrady

However I used to be instructed that as massive because the palace is, they do not have room for egos. It was by no means: “I am making ready this dish for the queen. She’s going to like it. She’s going to take pleasure in it as a result of I ready it.” No, you ready the meals her manner. You have been truly cooking dinner for her in her home.

You additionally needed to be calm within the kitchen on a regular basis. As a result of one of many issues we have been instructed was that the royal household can come into the kitchen at any level. And naturally, once I was there, from 1982 to 1993, there was a full royal nursery, together with Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice, and Princess Eugenie. The children might come into the kitchen at any time, particularly at Balmoral Fortress and Sandringham Home.

Assembly the Queen

On my first day working at Balmoral, after lunch, I used to be instructed I might go and discover. I used to be strolling alongside the trail at two within the afternoon and I noticed within the distance this woman strolling in direction of me sporting a scarf, wellington boots and a Barbour jacket, and he or she had corgis together with her.

My first thought was: “Oh my gosh, that is the queen.” As we obtained nearer to at least one one other, my coronary heart was pounding and I started reminding myself to name her “Your Majesty,” and to not converse except she spoke first. Then, the canine noticed me and began barking. She had fairly a couple of corgis on the time, they usually all simply ran in direction of me.

The Queen burst out laughing. I turned and ran. I spotted then that I wasn’t assembly the Queen that day. She by no means known as them off me, however I suppose she by no means set them on me both!

Speaking to her occurred quite a bit afterward. It was a couple of years later at Wooden Farm at Sandringham. I might been working all weekend, and the queen had been entertaining. She got here into the kitchen and stated, “Thanks for a stunning weekend.” She had this manner of constructing you are feeling such as you have been the one particular person on this planet at that second. She was simply superb.

So many instances she would come into the kitchen or cease exterior and look in a kitchen window that was open and say, “Thanks for a stunning weekend. The meals was unimaginable.” To me, that meant greater than a gold watch or cash, or something. This was the queen.

Queen Elizabeth’s Favourite Meals and Consuming Habits

I quickly discovered that the queen was a chocoholic. She beloved darkish chocolate. So something we placed on the menu with darkish chocolate in it was all the time a winner. She beloved indigenous produce from her gardens and he or she beloved to have the ability to say to her visitors that the produce they have been consuming was grown on the property. She beloved the venison from Balmoral and the partridge and pheasant from Sandringham. She might purchase something she wished, however to have one thing grown or to take one thing like venison from her property meant a lot to her. I keep in mind she loved beef tenderloin with a whiskey mushroom cream sauce or a pleasant piece of venison, however I’ll all the time keep in mind Sunday lunches.

Queen Elizabeth and President Ronald Reagan
Queen Elizabeth II and President Ronald Reagan in San Francisco in 1983. Darren McGrady was a chef to Queen Elizabeth from 1982 to 1993.
Photograph by Anwar Hussein/WireImage

We might have a roast rib of beef and the whole lot to go together with it; Yorkshire pudding, parsnips and mashed potatoes, and the queen all the time had the primary slice of the meat. She appreciated her beef properly completed, and it drove the cooks loopy, however she was old-fashioned and would all the time have that first slice on the entrance laid out for her to take, the tastiest half.

Folks picked up on a video I not too long ago posted in regards to the queen loving a “Jam Penny”, which is a strawberry jelly sandwich. However she did not eat them on daily basis. They have been on the menu for round 50 years, which means that she seemingly ate them as soon as every week. However she beloved the custom. She beloved having dishes that she’d had for thus lengthy.

The queen had a menu e-book and he or she might select from a variety for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, placing a line by way of the dishes that she did not need. If she had somebody like Prince Charles coming for dinner, she would write “two” subsequent to her selection of dish, and that instructed us there have been two for dinner. If she was out for dinner or lunch, she put a line by way of the web page. The queen ate to dwell, she wasn’t a foodie, and we knew our parameters. We could not simply take cuttlefish and put it on the menu, we had to make use of the meals that she appreciated.

There have been dishes on the menus that date again 100 years. For 11 years, I made the identical birthday cake for the queen; a chocolate ganache cake. The recipe I used dates again to Queen Victoria’s chef Gabriel Tschumi. The queen was like all of us in that manner; all of us have recipes that have been our grandmother’s or our great-grandmother’s.

You’d see the queen having afternoon tea wherever she was on this planet. In fact, it was maddening typically to be on a long-haul flight to Australia, land in what was truly early morning U.Ok. time and need some sleep, after which the queen would need scones and afternoon tea as a result of it might be 5 p.m. in Australia and it was tea time. She beloved the custom.

A Frugal and Sensible Queen

Once I joined the royal family, I assumed I’d see all this opulence; the champagne, the caviar, the foie gras. However they’d solely seem at state banquets. The queen was very frugal. I keep in mind one time she was going to the Royal Opera Home in London and he or she wished some smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for dinner earlier than she left. Certainly one of our newer cooks despatched the dish up, fantastically cooked. He truly took an entire lemon and did somewhat garnish with it, and it regarded stunning. The queen’s web page got here again down with the lemon on the plate. He instructed us that Her Majesty had stated she did not want all of this and that it was a waste, and to ask the cooks if we might use the remainder of the lemon. She grew up within the years of the Second World Warfare, so she was frugal like that.

I used to be shocked at first, however then I thought of it and I spotted that if I’m on vacation having caviar and champagne, I can not wait to get again to some easy, consolation meals. If the queen had a banquet, then that night time or the following day, she would simply have some grilled fish or rooster with somewhat salad and a few fruit.

As soon as at Balmoral, I used to be exterior behind the fortress, chatting to a policeman over a mug of tea. Then, the queen trotted up on a horse. We stood to consideration and I put my tea down shortly. Her Majesty stated to the policeman, “Why is that mild not being turned off on the backside of the chain stroll?” There was one mild that had been left on from the social membership dance the night time earlier than. She then trotted down there, obtained off the horse and flicked the swap off herself. That was Queen Elizabeth.

Darren McGrady Was The Queen's Chef
Darren McGrady (standing, third from left) pictured with Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and different members of the royal family within the Nineteen Eighties.
Courtesy of Darren McGrady

Throughout my 11 years working for the queen, I traveled to many nations together with her and I used to be fortunate sufficient to fly to Washington. D.C. on Concorde and have the completely unimaginable expertise of seeing Her Majesty on the entrance of the aircraft. We landed in Washington, the place the Queen spoke to Congress in Could of 1991, and I do not forget that everyone obtained up. Then I heard, “Will you all sit down? I can not discover something.” We knew the queen’s voice and all of us sat straight down in our seats. After which she obtained up with a giant, beaming smile, and obtained off the aircraft and everybody was there waving. That was such a contented time.

Leaving Queen Elizabeth to Work for Princess Diana

I used to be senior chef on the palace by the point I left in 1993 to work for Princess Diana. When Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated, Princess Diana requested me to maneuver to Kensington Palace, the place I stayed, cooking for her and Prince William and Prince Harry, till the day that she died in 1997.

Diana was patron of greater than 100 charities and labored out on the fitness center on daily basis. I felt she had her life again on monitor and I assumed she was trying the perfect she ever had. She would inform me to handle how a lot fats was in her dishes, and he or she would handle the carbs on the fitness center.

So all my recipes modified. With the queen, it was a lot of conventional French delicacies, a lot of lotions and butters and fats. Princess Diana had a lot of greens, steamed fish and poached rooster. We additionally had the boys, Prince William and Prince Harry, however they beloved all of the consolation meals like shepherd’s pie, pizza, fried rooster, and ribs. My job was making an attempt to steadiness the 2 so that everyone was completely satisfied.

Darren McGrady Was Princess Diana's Chef
Courtesy of Darren McGrady

The princes have been within the kitchen on a regular basis; they’d play cover and search in there and are available by way of to ask what was for lunch or for dinner, typically making an attempt to steer me to alter the menu.

When the princess wasn’t there, their nanny selected the menus, and I keep in mind sooner or later I had roast rooster, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes on the menu for dinner. That is what their nanny, Jessie Webb, wished the boys to have. Once I got here into the kitchen that day, there was a word on my desk saying “Darren, please give the boys pizza for dinner tonight.” And it was signed by “Jessie.” But it surely was written in 7-year-old Prince Harry’s handwriting. They obtained the rooster, I used to be afraid of the nanny!

A Closing Goodbye to Queen Elizabeth

I had heard discuss that the queen wasn’t too properly, and I questioned about her being at Balmoral. Then, when the Altering of the Guard was canceled at Buckingham Palace on the morning of September 8, it appeared like one signal after one other.

When the information was introduced that Her Majesty had died, I used to be in my kitchen in Dallas, Texas, and I instantly started pondering again to her laughing at these canine chasing me and the way yearly at Christmas, she would give me a Christmas reward and say “Merry Christmas and a contented New 12 months.” Prince Philip can be standing subsequent to her, so that you’d shake arms with him too. It was simply such a contented time.

McGrady Was a Chef For Queen Elizabeth
Chef Darren McGrady attends BritWeek’s tenth Anniversary VIP Reception & Gala at Fairmont Lodge on Could 1, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. McGrady labored as a chef for Queen Elizabeth II between 1982 and 1993.
Angela Weiss/Getty Photographs for BritWeek

Prince Harry and Prince William have been younger youngsters once I labored for Princess Diana. They have been 12 and 15 once I was final cooking for them, however they should be devastated. They may have recognized it was coming, like all of us did. However for William, it is one step nearer to changing into king. And right now we have now King Charles. Folks respect Charles, however he is obtained a job on his arms. It is all the time been the queen, who was all of ours, the nation’s, and now we have got Charles. So it may take time. I additionally consider the 15 years I knew Princess Diana, who might have been Queen Diana now. I keep in mind her saying to me that she would by no means be queen. I simply laughed on the time, nevertheless it was true.

I spent 11 years making breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner for Queen Elizabeth however I did not anticipate her to say something to me once I moved to work for Princess Diana. The cooks come and go, we have been servants there. I did not anticipate the queen to take day trip of her busy day. I used to be only a servant. I did my half and Queen Elizabeth did her half for greater than 70 years.

Darren McGrady was a chef to Queen Elizabeth II from 1982 to 1993, and to Princess Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry from 1993 to 1997. He now runs The Royal Chef in Dallas, Texas. Discover out extra at theroyalchef.com.

All views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal.

As instructed to Jenny Haward.