Former Royal Chef to Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana, Darren McGrady Reveals Unknown Facts About The Royal Family
Dream Cruises launched “A Taste of the Palace” on Genting Dream in November, with a pair of very special voyages from Singapore, each with a guest chef—one by Chef Ivan Li of Family Li Imperial Cuisine, who made iconic dishes in the court of the Qing dynasty; as well as one by former royal chef Darren McGrady, who worked for 15 years in both the Buckingham Palace and the Kensington Place.
We were invited onboard the latter voyage, where chef McGrady—who now resides in Texas—prepared the British royal family’s favourite dishes for us. We caught up him one afternoon for a little chat:
How long ago did you leave the royal family?
Darren McGrady (DM) After Princess Diana died, so 22 years ago. I spent 11 years with the Queen and four years with Princess Diana right until the car accident. I actually had her food with me, waiting for her to return the next day. After that I moved to the US, and have been living in Dallas, Texas for the last 22 years. I started my own catering company called Eating Royally, after two cookbooks, of which one was named Eating Royally, which I donated all the advance royalties to Princess Diana’s charity and it went to six prints.
How did you plan Queen Elizabeth II's menu?
DM For the Queen, we would do three-day menus. When you open the book, it will have lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, with two choices for each course. She would put a line through the one she didn’t want. If she was out for dinner, she would be put a line through the page. If she had guests, she would indicate it. She did this every three days personally.
What about Princess Diana?
DM Princess Diana had a menu board, but it was a waste of time. It was difficult to get her to decide what she wanted for dinner in the morning, let alone three days at a go.
It’s actually quite hard to decide what to eat for three days in a row, isn't it?
DM Yes, but the Queen was so busy and so disciplined. With Princess Diana, she would come into the kitchen during the afternoon and ask what was for dinner. I would say it's lobster thermidor—which is also on the Genting World Dream menu—and she said, "Oh, lobster. I could eat some chicken." "Ok, then it’s chicken, tonight." Changed all the time, there was no point in preparing in advance!
If the kitchen is where the heart of the home is, it’s no wonder that chef McGrady’s anecdotes reveal so much about each royal family member and their favourite dishes.
1/7 The Queen preferred British classics, including recipes from Queen Victoria’s time
“The Queen often stuck to her staple dishes. Some of the dishes on the Genting Dream menu are still served today in the palace and have also been part of the staples in the family for over a hundred years. For example, one of the dishes on the menu, Supreme of Halibut Queen Victoria. The sauce that comes with that is a recipe that goes back to Queen Victoria’s time. A lot of the dishes that are on the Genting Dream menu, like the Gaelic steak, goes back to when the Queen was a little girl.
The Gleneagles Pate is something we used to serve all the time, whenever the Queen entertained kings, queens, and presidents. You get layers of smoked trout, smoked salmon, small mackerel encased in more salmon and served with eggs Drumkilbo, which is sort of a mayonnaise bound with lobster and eggs and tomatoes. That is the celebratory dish. The Queen had it at her 50th wedding anniversary. When the Queen Mother dined, that was her favourite dish too. You can’t get more quintessentially British than this dish.”
(Related: What Does Queen Elizabeth II Always Purchase From Singapore? Plus 6 Other Facts You’ll Be Surprised To Know)
2/7 Prince William picked Darren’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake for his groom’s cake
“The Queen would probably be the one in the royal family with a sweet tooth as she loves anything chocolate. For afternoon tea at the palace, we would make a chocolate biscuit cake as part of the selection.
Prince William chose that particular chocolate cake from my cookbook, Eating Royally, for his groom’s cake when he got married—of course, as it is his grandmother’s favourite. Then I went on The Oprah Winfrey Show to make that for her—which got the book quite a bit of attention.”
(Related: Everything We Learned About Prince William And Kate Middleton From TV Special ‘A Berry Royal Christmas’)
3/7 Prince Harry cooks a great roasted chicken
“When the princes were young, they would come into the kitchen all the time: with their mom, when they were hungry, when they were bored, when they were playing hide-and-seek. They were royal princes but they were also young children and that reflected in their food preferences as well. They didn’t eat foie gras and caviar. They loved pizza and chicken tenders, cottage pie, bread and butter pudding, caramel banana cake.
Simple food like roasted chicken was what they had on most weekends. When I heard that Prince Harry had made roasted chicken when he proposed to Meghan (now Duchess of Sussex), I was like, “Woah, I taught you to cook that!” He was in the kitchen all the time and used to watch me put the chicken in. I hope it was as good as mine. It must have been since she said yes!”
(Related: What We Learned About Prince Harry And His Wife Meghan Markle Through Their New Documentary)
4/7 The Princes, as young boys, loved fast food
“One morning, Princess Diana said to me, “Cancel lunch today, I’m taking the boys out for lunch.”
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"We’re going to MacDonald’s,"
“Oh my goodness, your Royal Highness, I can cook burgers better than McDonald’s.”
She said: “Oh Darren, stop. It’s not about the burgers. It’s about toys. They want the toys in the Happy Meal.”
Royal children, but children. So they’d sneak down there, and just turn up. With security of course.”
5/7 Prince Charles was a big fan of Italian food
“When we cooked for the Queen, it was mainly classic French and British cuisine. But there was sometimes a bit of Italian influence in there—some pasta and risottos—thanks to the Prince of Wales, the Queen’s son. Prince Charles used to go hunting mushroom in Balmoral estate, and we would create a simple wild mushroom risotto with that; he loves Italian food.”
(Related: Prince Charles Is Launching A Fashion Collection With Yoox Net-A-Porter In 2020)
6/7 Princess Diana announced that Darren’s bread and butter pudding is the best
“I held Prince Harry as a baby while Princess Diana ate cereal. She used to come into the kitchen all the time; where she would sit there, pick on fruit, and talk about anything and everything. It was so different: how formal and regal Buckingham Palace was and how much more relaxed it was with Princess Diana in Kensington Palace. Watching Princess Diana interact with her boys and watching them grow up, it feels like you’re part of their family, even though you’re not, because you go into their inner sanctuary.
Princess Diana has called my bread and butter pudding the best in the world, but I’ll leave you to decide for yourself later when you try it! It is a bread and butter pudding with salted caramel sauce and ice cream." [Ed’s note: It was out of this world.]
7/7 The Queen’s corgis? They love scones
“Afternoon tea is quintessentially British at the palace. We made shortbread and fresh scones every day, and sometimes the Queen would throw the scones to the corgis as a treat. Afternoon tea also had a big selection of sandwiches, like sliced beef or cucumber sandwich, and cakes. But the Queen was so good. She would take a cake, but the tiniest piece and that was it. That’s the discipline that the Queen has, and that’s kept her on the throne for so long.”