Among the many responsibilities during his time serving both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana, Royal Chef, Darren McGrady prepared afternoon tea. According to McGrady, reached yesterday at his home in Texas for a phone interview, it was a meal the Queen never missed, no matter where she was or what the occasion. "Whether it was a garden party with 6,000 people in attendance or at Buckingham Palace or if the Queen was flying somewhere, she would always have afternoon tea. It's the most important meal of the day and so quintessentially British," says McGrady.
McGrady will be sharing recipes and stories of the Royals as part of "Taste of Traverse City", September 14.
The chef and author of "Eating Royally", McGrady worked for Queen Elizabeth for eleven years. Her favorite tea is Earl Gray and a typical afternoon tea menu would consist of scones, a dessert and two types of sandwiches, often egg salad and cucumber, the latter prepared with skin off and no seeds. Occasionally the Queen would request a "jam penny" sandwich, the only round savory served. It is made with two slices of bread, unsalted butter and jelly, and then cut into one-inch circles to resemble an old English penny. It was served to her as a child and she still enjoys it as an adult.
McGrady says that the menus for all the meals would be written up three days in advance and the Queen would cross out the options she did not want. When the chocolate biscuit cake was selected he knew that Prince William would be visiting from school as that was his favorite. Like the Queen's jam penny, the chocolate biscuit cake continues to be popular with Prince William as an adult. He chose it as his groom's cake for his wedding.
McGrady worked several years for Prince William's mother, Princess Diana and has many wonderful memories of her. She would often visit the kitchen and always remembered birthdays, including those of McGrady's and his wife, Wendy. Although Princess Di would start her day off with coffee and did not engage in daily afternoon teas, she enjoyed tea and would hold tea parties whenever her nieces, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie came to visit.
Rose puchong was Princess Di's preferred tea, which McGrady describes as lovely black tea with bits of roses. It is a favorite of the Royal Chef as well.
After Princess Diana's death, McGrady moved to the United States with his wife and then, one-year old daughter to start something new. Although asked by Prince Charles to stay, McGrady said he was inspired by the Princess who often talked of moving to America.
He now conducts seminars and tea etiquette presentations for corporate events and other groups. He also organizes a culinary excursion once a year. Just back from his "Royal London and Downton Abby" trip in August, he says next year's location will include a trip to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. McGrady says he always works in at least one tea and, whenever in London, he recommends the Goring Hotel. The Royal Chef says the hotel serves "the best tea in London, it's just incredible".
Itinerary for the culinary excursion for 2014 and other details of the trip will be on McGrady's website in November.
A frequent invitee on many news and talk shows, he was Oprah's special guest on the wedding day of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge where he prepared the Prince's chocolate biscuit cake.
This weekend will be the chef's first visit to Michigan, and although he had to "google" Traverse City, he's heard it's beautiful and is looking forward to his trip north.
Guests of "Taste of Traverse City" will be able to see the Royal Chef at the event's cooking classes, "Royal Favorite Dishes" and "Working in Royal Kitchens" as well as "A Royal Taste" evening reception. Among the presentations, those in attendance will see the Royal Chef demonstrate how to make a scone.
"After preparing scones every day for eleven years", continues McGrady with laugh, "I've got it down pretty well."