Former Royal Chef Darren McGrady labels Her Majesty taste as ‘Frugal’ whilst expressing how thrilled Diana would have been over what Harry and William have achieved and will go on to achieve.
Our Consumer team got the opportunity to speak to the former Royal chef, Darren McGrady. From talking about the Queen's favourite foods to the future king William. The chef himself spoke about what Her Majesty was really like. He used the term ‘Frugal’. An unusual word to describe royalty but in fact, it’s the truth. Take a look to see what else Darren had to say about the topic of the Royal household. This interview gained over 50 links for our client.
Ahead of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, former Royal chef Darren McGrady sheds light on the Queen’s favourite meal; afternoon tea. He reveals Her Majesty’s favourite afternoon tea dishes, the subtle way she’d communicate with the chefs while at Buckingham Palace and the strict protocol the kitchen staff had to abide by when including scones on the menu.
What would you say was the Queen’s favourite meal?
“The Queen had afternoon tea every day, wherever she was in the world. If we were at Buckingham Palace and she was on her own for tea, or whether she had Prince William come and join her, or whether she had a garden party for 6000 people or even if she was on the Royal Britannia in Australia.
“The Queen loved afternoon tea, I would say it’s probably one of her favourite meals. Certainly when I was there, she would sit down religiously for tea.”
What typically was the Queen’s favourite items on the menu when it came to afternoon tea?
“There had to be two types of sandwiches on the menu, there were scones - one day they would be plain scones, the next day they would be fruit scones with raisins. It was really important the way they alternated. So much so, that the chefs at Buckingham Palace would ring Windsor Castle on a Monday morning and ask what flavour scones the Queen had the day before, just to be sure we didn’t serve the same. I’m not sure what would have happened if we did, but we always checked.
“For afternoon tea there would be small cake, anything from a mini chocolate eclair to a Queen’s cake, and large cakes too which we would call a cut of cake, where the Queen could cut a slice of cake. This could be honey and cream sponge, a fruit cake, gingerbread. Banana bread, chocolate biscuit cake - one of her favourites - or a chocolate ganache cake. They were served with Earl Grey tea and that was afternoon tea for the Queen every day.”
Were the afternoon tea recipes selected in the same way the Queen’s dinner menus were? Did they have to be run by Her Majesty first?
“The Queen had a menu called a Menu Royale, a red leather bound book which she had each day. When you opened it up, the top left corner would be lunch, the bottom left corner would be afternoon tea and the whole page on the right was dinner.
“For afternoon tea the chefs would suggest sandwiches and scones - we didn’t tell the Queen what she was having because we knew what a lot of her favourites were, but the other cakes, the small cakes changed every single day. Again, we’d try and put on our favourites and occasionally she would put a line through something. If she had say Prince William coming for afternoon tea, she knew her grandson loved chocolate biscuit cake so she’d write that in instead and put a number two. That told us there were two for tea.
“We’d choose the sandwiches that were served. They varied, they could be the traditional cucumber sandwiches, but depending on the different houses we travelled to - take Balmoral for instance, we’d have so much salmon coming in, we’d have that fresh salmon and make a beautiful salmon salad or put that into the sandwiches. At Balmoral, the Queen would go and pick berries from the gardens, bring them back to the kitchen and we’d serve some for dinner in the evening and I’d get to make jams and jellies that would last all for the year.”
How would you describe the Queen’s tastes?
“The one thing you can say about the Queen is that she is very frugal. It was one of the things that really surprised me, when I moved from The Savoy to Buckingham Palace I thought every day would be smoked salmon, foie gras, caviar, but no. The Queen is very very frugal and it’s simple and plain foods. That comes from her early years of growing up during the war.”
What were Prince William and Harry like growing up and having afternoon tea with the Queen?
“During the week, Prince William and Prince Harry would be at Ludgrove at school so they wouldn’t be there for tea, it would only be at Easter or Christmas or the summer at Balmoral that they’d get to spend time with the rest of the Royal family at afternoon tea.
“A lot of the time we would actually send nursery tea separately, so the boys wouldn’t have tea with the Royal family. We’d do caramel banana cake, lots of sugar, it used to drive nanny crazy, and jam tarts - traditional, authentic, British nursery food.”
Does the Queen have any quirks when it comes to drinking tea?
“Hot tea has to be hot. Tea has to be absolute boiling water poured over the top of it, it has to steep for five minutes, that is the most important part. It’s really, really important when making tea is that it’s made in a teapot - that is a real cup of tea.”
When you were working at the Palace for the Queen or for Princess Diana, did you ever have to cater to any late night orders or midnight snacks?
“We never did any late orders at all! At Buckingham Palace I lived above the kitchen in the chef quarters and nobody ever came and knocked on the door and said, ‘the Queen wants a club sandwich.’ In her room was a bowl of fruit, chocolates and some of her favourites, if she wanted a nibble in the night she’d have one of those.
“The same goes for William and Harry, they were never allowed to summon the chef to make something in the middle of the night. Princess Diana, meanwhile, never had an afternoon tea ritual, she’d have a cup of tea but drank coffee for the most part.”
What do you make of the Queen moving permanently to Windsor Castle and did you ever experience cooking at Windsor Castle? How did it differ from Buckingham Palace?
“It’s no surprise the Queen has moved to Windsor, she’s never really liked the palace, it’s always been the office to the Queen. The Queen would always be whizzing off back to Windsor Castle, she can’t wait to get back there. She loves it there, so it’s no surprise she’s moved there permanently.
“There’s two kitchens there, the main kitchen and the small kitchen and the small kitchen is just small enough to take care of the Queen and one of two guests. There’d always be a senior chef, a junior chef and about 30 staff that would go to Windsor for the weekend. We worked in the small kitchen, it’s much different, much more relaxed.
“The Queen can go out, walk the dogs, go out and see the horses in the back garden. For the Queen, it’s always been dogs and horses first. That’s her passion, that’s her hobbies. And why shouldn’t she at 96 enjoy that. Let Charles and William take on some of the other engagements, she should just be spending time with the horses and the dogs every day now. Her family are all close by too in Windsor.”
How important are the Buckingham Palace garden parties and the opportunity to interact with the public to the Queen?
“We did five garden parties a year for around 6000 people - I think it’s really important for the Queen to host the garden parties, the people invited are more often than not charities and she wants to meet them and thank them.
“I always thought it was funny, every garden party was like a challenge for the Queen. The gates would open, people would go out into the garden and start eating and eating and drinking, and then when the Queen came out onto the steps, they played the national anthem and they’d all form a maze of lines all the way through the garden right across to the Royal tea tent in the corner and the Queen had to get from those steps at Buckingham Palace and weave her way around to the Royal tea tent where she could finally have a nice cup of tea.”
Prince Charles is said to be making Buckingham Palace his permanent residence, how do you think the environment will change in the Palace with Prince Charles as King?
“We don’t really know what to expect - 90 percent of us have never known another monarch. 70 years on the throne, the Queen has had that stability. It’s absolutely incredible to see what she’s done.
“Will things be different? Absolutely, the Prince of Wales has his own thoughts and his own ideas. Will the public warm to Camilla? I think so, I hope so for the sake of the monarchy. What I love more than anything is that we’ve got William and Kate waiting in the wings to come through and take us into that next generation.”
What do you think Diana would make of William being King and the established Royal he is today?
“William has always known that he’s going to be King one day over Harry, William was the heir, Harry was the spare. Princess Diana would have been thrilled to pieces now that both boys are happy, they’ve found a partner and they’re happy within their relationships because obviously he wasn’t and went through a divorce and separation. And, of course, the children, the families that both have produced.
“If Diana was alive today, she would be hugging those girls [Kate and Meghan]. I just see her hugging Charlotte. I think she’d be so proud of William the way he has taken on these Royal duties. Seeing the Queen at 96 having to step back - if she could get out there, she would, she wants to, but she can’t physically do everything now - and the Prince of Wales and William and Kate step up and do more and more, it shows that the monarch is here for a long time to come.
What traits of Diana’s do you see in William and Harry today?
“I know it sounds dramatic to say, but the way Princess Diana was bringing the children into the next century - she was able to say, ‘I know they’re Royal children, but they’re normal children too.’ It wasn’t the case of having to dress for dinner or sit at the table and be served formally by butlers.
“On a Saturday night, you’d see Diana sitting down in front of the TV eating dinner with her boys, it just made everything so normal. Nanny always suggested that the boys have roasted chicken, green vegetables and healthy food, but on a saturday night the boys could have pizza, the boys could have hamburgers and fried chicken, and things like that. It was a special treat. It was Diana’s way of showing them, you’re children too, and we see a lot of that with Kate now too.”