We Talked to Former Royal Chef Darren McGrady
He says the Queen probably won’t ever eat one shocking superfood.
The highly anticipated wedding between American Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, only hours away, is poised to be a significant point of cultural change for the British royal family. With Meghan’s new title, currently suspected to be the Duchess of Sussex, also comes a new, nontraditional perspective – even in the realm of food.
In stark contrast to traditional British cuisine, which often involves hearty meat- and carb-focused dishes, Meghan is known for her healthy eating habits, influenced by her Californian upbringing. She’s cited “acai bowls, green juices, chopped salads, perfect sushi, [and] grilled fish tacos” as her regular go-tos in a 2015 interview with EyeSwoon, a lifestyle blog by Athena Calderone.
To get an insider perspective on what’s to come for Meghan, we sat down with former royal chef, Darren McGrady, who personally cooked for Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, and Princes William and Harry – yes, at Buckingham and Kensington Palaces! – from 1982 to 1997.
What do you think are some of the biggest eating adjustments Meghan Markle will have to make as a royal?
Darren McGrady: Well, the first one is that she’s gonna have to use a knife and a fork at the same time. Since living in the United States, I’ve realized that most people actually switch the fork [between hands], and then they put the knife on the plate [while they eat]. So, eating with the knife and fork together and turning the prongs of the fork over [to take the bite] will be a huge difference at parties.
From a food side, I think that Meghan loves seasonal foods, she loves healthy eating. That’s gonna be a real challenge with Harry. Harry’s not into healthy food at all. Harry loves pizza. Harry loves curry. Chicken tikka masala. Harry loves nursery food, like Shepherd’s Pie, Scotch eggs, those traditional British dishes. I think that there’ll be a little clash there.
Some stories broke out recently that Meghan’s put him on a strict diet for the wedding. And he’s having a hard time adjusting.
DM: Yeah, he’s lost a half-stone (seven pounds) for the wedding. But Meghan, just from following her on social media before they got engaged, [she] was inspirational to people. Just, for example, the cake. [Her] just saying I don’t want it to be that traditional English fruit cake, that heavy, heavy cake. I want something in season, I want something that’s lemon and elderflower. The elderflower’s just coming into season now in the U.K. And I think Meghan’s going to bring lots more to the royal family than she takes from it.
Do you think the palace is going to move with and accommodate her eating background?
DM: In the olden days, you would do what the Queen does. That’s it. But nowadays, it’s getting more modern. I don’t think she’ll ever be able to get the Queen to eat quinoa. But, I do think that Meghan and Harry together, when Meghan entertains, their parties will be a lot more towards the healthy eating side.
And do you think she’ll be able to make seafood a more common meal at the palace? We saw that Meghan Markle would have to give up shellfish.
DM: I saw those stories, too, but it’s not true. The royal family loves seafood.
In fact, when the Queen celebrated her platinum wedding anniversary with the Duke of Edinburgh, one of the favorite dishes was an Eggs Drumkilbo, which is lobster. When I was at Buckingham Palace, and catered the royal wedding for Prince Andrew, they had Eggs Drumkilbo on the menu. So, they use lots of lobster. We eat lots of shellfish.
And I think where the mix up came was when Her Majesty travels anywhere overseas, she does try to avoid shellfish because of getting sick. She doesn’t want to be in a foreign country doing a tour, and then she gets sick eating mussels or something like that.
So what are some of your favorite memories, especially food-wise, working with the royal family for so long?
DM: They all have their own favorites, just like we do at home. The Queen’s a chocoholic. Loves anything chocolate on the menu. When I was there, the Queen had Special K® for breakfast every morning.
William and Harry, when I would cook for them, they would have a whole selection of the Kellogg’s cereals on the side board. So they’d go through different ones. Sometimes it was Rice Krispies®, sometimes it was the Corn Flakes®. The Frosted Flakes® were the really popular one. I used to like those, too.
When I worked at Buckingham Palace, we used to have a cooked breakfast every morning. And the chefs would always sit down at nine o’clock to eat breakfast. Just at that time, the milk man was delivering big churns of milk from the royal dairy cows at Windsor Castle, and right at the top of the milk was the cream ’cause it was completely unpasteurized in those days. And while everyone else was having this big English fry-up for breakfast, three or four of us chefs would have our Frosted Flakes® with this cream on the top and it doesn’t get better than that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.