As ruling monarch of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth territories, the Queen can naturally get the best food around. It’s even been reported that she picks her meals from a menu and that her chefs then prepare each one for her. So it seems as though she basically has her own personal restaurant! But as with any dining establishment, things can occasionally go wrong. Once, for instance, the Queen apparently found an unwelcome, and slightly dangerous, guest lurking in her salad.
The Queen’s eating habits are seemingly a source of fascination to many royal family fans. And things that these food devotees might ponder include, say, what are her favorite dishes? What are her least favorite? Other topics could include what it’s like working below decks at the royal palaces, whipping up the finest meals for the monarch.
Over the years, then, many people have offered answers to some of those questions. A couple of former palace chefs have even given interviews to British newspapers. In 2013, for instance, Darren McGrady, who for 15 years cooked for the royal family, spoke to The Daily Telegraph. And he said that generally new chefs are trained up to cook “the family recipes” with a chance for promotion later.
McGrady himself apparently began his palace career as the person who peeled carrots for the horses. But then he rose up the ranks to become a chef to the Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Diana and more. It was a job that doubtlessly required plenty of know-how. “Although you’re cooking for 300 staff and kings and presidents, you’re also cooking for a family,” he explained.
So that also means that the chefs have to have their wits about them. The Queen and Prince Philip, McGrady said, are “two pensioners with particular likes and dislikes.” On the Queen’s list of noes, for instance, are strong-smelling things. “You’d never put garlic in the Queen’s menu, for example, or strong onions or paprika, because she hates them,” McGrady explained.
McGrady then ran through a typical everyday menu for the Queen. For breakfast, he said, she has cereal such as cornflakes. Lunch, on the table at 1:00 p.m., is apparently a simple fish or chicken dish. And for dinner, at 8:00 p.m., she will reportedly have meat or fish with salad. Yet while this all sounds pretty normal, it’s actually cooked to the highest of standards.
And the menus are also reportedly written in French. Why? It’s a tradition among royals, McGrady said, and the Queen likes it that way. Her menu book – offered to her each day – is naturally important too. “Every dish goes into the Queen’s menu book, with two options for every course,” McGrady informed The Daily Telegraph. “She puts a line through the one she doesn’t want.”
The Queen also communicates with her chefs via the menu books, sometimes in a slightly snarky way. “Once I included a strawberry dessert called ‘Veiled Farmer’s Daughter,’ which I’d read about in The Daily Telegraph,” McGrady recollected. “I got a note back from her asking, ‘Who or what are the veiled farmer’s daughters?’ I sent her the recipe, and she passed it.”
The other royals have very particular tastes as well. Prince Andrew, McGrady said, has a love for a certain fruit, for instance. “Every Christmas, he’d get sent a gift of mangoes, and he’d come into the kitchen bellowing, ‘Where are my mangoes?’ He used to count them every day; he loved them,” McGrady related. As for Prince Charles, he apparently insists on organic food.
And what about Prince William and Prince Harry? Well, McGrady said they are “two boys who loved burgers and pizza.” Actually, the princes’ adoration of fast food has been well documented. In 2018, in fact, Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, told The Daily Mirror that Diana would take her sons for McDonald’s on some Saturday nights before watching TV with them.
Believe it or not, though, the Queen and other royals reportedly help in the kitchen sometimes too. Diana apparently cooked for herself occasionally, and at royal barbeques both the Queen and Philip seemingly take part. According to reports, in fact, Philip cooks the prepared meat, and the Queen helps to clean up, although the plates then get washed properly later on.
McGrady isn’t the only insider who’s spoken about royal participation in the kitchens, though. “When [William and Harry] were quite young, they used to like to come into the kitchen, and we did stuff with them like cookies and meringues,” former royal chef Carolyn Robb told Racked in 2015. “As they got older, they were really quite interested in learning to cook, even in college.”
Robb also spoke more about the Queen’s reasons for avoiding garlic. “The only thing that was forbidden was garlic,” she said when asked if there was anything she was told never to make. “And the reason for that was that they obviously did a lot of public engagements and were in close proximity to people and never wanted to have garlic.”
That seems fair enough; no one wants to smell garlic on the Queen’s breath, after all. “I think she has a fairly simple, traditional English diet,” Robb said. “I remember cooking pheasant on one occasion. Like Prince Charles, she enjoyed eating produce that was from one of her estates and things that were home-produced.”
“When they were home, they preferred really simple, fresh, homemade meals. We had things like wild mushrooms, though, that we’d actually pick on the estate in Scotland,” Robb went on. “Each summer we’d go out there and pick them and dry them and freeze them so we’d have them throughout the year.”
Robb also claimed that the royals are surprisingly thrifty. Prince Charles, she said, is even a big fan of recycling and hates food to go to waste. “If there were leftovers, they’d be used one way or another,” Robb said. “If not for him, then rehashed and used for a meal the following day. But we were always quite careful: he never wanted to have huge amounts of food on the plate.”
McGrady has further given the media other glimpses into the royal kitchens. In 2016, for instance, he spoke to the Daily Mail. “[The Queen is] not a foodie at all,” he said. “She eats to live; it’s Prince Philip that lives to eat. He loves food, he’s interested in food, he wants to know where it comes from. The Queen, not so much.”
However, the Queen does love to host banquets, according to McGrady. “She’d oversee the full menu, choose what she wanted: ‘do we have enough pheasant, grouse, partridge?’” he said. “She loved the hosting side of the event. Garden parties were huge. We’d have to do so much food: scones and pastries, ice cream made fresh.”
McGrady then shared an anecdote about a soufflé crisis he’d once witnessed. A chef had apparently been tasked for making the dessert for the Queen, but it went wrong. “The Queen was in the next room with a guest. He put it in the oven, and when he opened the oven the soufflé hadn’t risen. So he lifted it out of the oven and dropped it, called the Queen’s page and said, ‘Sorry, I dropped it. It will have to be ice cream instead.’”
McGrady spoke to Marie Claire in 2017, too, and talked about the Queen’s eating habits some more. He said the Queen liked eating birds from her own estate but that her favorite food of all was a delicious sweet treat. “She loves chocolate. That was her favorite, and it has to be dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the better,” the former royal chef said.
He also revealed that while the Queen normally chooses perfectly ordinary food, the things that the food is served on is anything but. Case in point? Apparently, she has a bejeweled plate for her fruit. “The dish was encrusted in diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Thirty-something years ago it was valued at £500,000 [$652,000],” McGrady said.
Yet some slightly more scandalous stories have come out over the years about the eating habits of the royals. In 2006, for example, broadcaster Jeremy Paxman became the source of the rumor that Prince Charles requires as many as seven soft-boiled eggs made for him every day in case he can’t find one that he likes. Clarence House actually denied it, though, putting out a statement saying it wasn’t true.
So it seems that those who have access to the royal kitchens just love to talk about what they’ve seen there. And perhaps the man who did this best was cook Charles Oliver. Born in 1884, he followed in his father’s footsteps to become a staff member to Queen Victoria. Then, after her, Oliver served George VI and later Queen Elizabeth II.
And throughout his life as a royal employee, Oliver apparently collected recipes and anecdotes with the intention of having them published after he passed away. In 2003, then, the book of his diaries and commentaries was finally released. Called Dinner at Buckingham Palace, the book serves as a kind of guide to what the royals allegedly got up to during mealtimes.
And, according to a column in The Guardian, Queen Victoria, much like Queen Elizabeth II, had a more simple palate. She supposedly enjoyed pies and soups, for instance, although sometimes she did apparently give into her era’s love of French food. She even reportedly had a French chef for a while and would often eat Indian curries.
Her son Edward, though, seemingly ate exactly how you’d expect a high-class historical royal to eat. The Guardian claimed that he enjoyed lobster salad with his breakfast and was served a whopping eight courses when he sat down for lunch. But even that apparently wasn’t enough for him. That’s because his dinner supposedly featured 12 courses, which included cheese, soup and plenty of meat.
Historically, though, British kings do seem to have a habit of overeating. Back in 1135, for example, King Henry I reportedly died from devouring too many lampreys, a river creature very popular among the upper classes of the Middle Ages. That sounds like a bit of an embarrassing way to go for a monarch, to be honest.
Queen Elizabeth’s mother had a love of luxurious food too, just not quite at the same levels. How do we know? Well, in 2012 a book of her recipes was published. And, looking through its contents, it’s easy to see where the Queen gets her sweet tooth from. The Queen Mother enjoyed, after all, mint-chocolate ice cream and a type of soufflé that contains gold leaf.
Oliver’s book, Dinner at Buckingham Palace, features some great stories about the minutiae of royal life as well. Possibly the most memorable, however, goes like this: “When clearing away after a royal meal the footmen always look for the notebook in which the Queen or Prince Philip jot down comments for the kitchen,” Oliver wrote. “The book is always left on a small round wooden table.”
“Once, on a torn-off top sheet the footmen found the dead body of a slug. ‘I found this in the salad – could you eat it?’ the Queen had written on the pad,” Oliver wrote. How the unwelcome guest had found its way into the Queen’s food, perhaps no one will ever know. But at least she’d apparently had a sense of humor about it.
Slugs are a common garden pest, of course, and they don’t have many fans. And when they come into contact with food, the results can be genuinely deadly. In 2018 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even announced that 12 people in the U.S. had gotten sick that year from accidentally eating slugs that had harbored diseases.
So it’s no wonder that the Queen had seemingly been somewhat annoyed. Hopefully, then, the staff had subsequently taken steps to prevent it from happening again. And luckily, there are actually many quick and easy ways to remove slugs from home-grown food. For a start, gardeners can simply pick the slugs off the plants every morning – ideally before the sun comes up.
It’s hard to say what palace staff had done after this particular incident, as Oliver didn’t dwell on it in the book. Presumably, though, the dead slug was quietly disposed of. Oliver actually goes on to talk some more about the function of the Queen’s dining-room notebook. “Mostly, the book remains blank, as the Queen is not fussy about food,” he said.
“However, when she has a guest to an informal lunch and they reveal definite likes and dislikes — such as an objection to fried potatoes or Brussels sprouts — the Queen will make a discreet note for future reference,” the author wrote. “This is duly recorded by the kitchen and remembered, should the guest come again.”
So if you ever attend luncheon with the Queen, she’ll be taking note of what you do and don’t eat. (Probably best not to ask for slugs, mind.) You can also expect the best wine at the palace, as Philip is apparently the one who sends feedback on the drinks. He’s reportedly known to mark wine bottles with “Good” or “Very Good.”
Unsurprisingly, though, in 2018 the slug story did the rounds on the internet, and most news outlets were very amused. “If you ever have the pleasure of hosting Her Majesty the Queen for dinner at your house, please note that she has no interest in eating snails so DON’T EVEN TRY,” Cosmopolitan wrote. “The Queen was less than thrilled to find a slug in one of her meals and dragged the chef via a scathing note.”
The slug story wasn’t the only one discussed in Dinner at Buckingham Palace, though. You see, the late Oliver also talked about the aforementioned habit of the royals to help out with the cooking and cleaning. He in fact related that the royal family would often go out and have a barbecue picnic, bringing along their friends and members of staff.
“Once his barbecue grill was glowing, Prince Philip would produce a rapid succession of sizzling chops, steaks and sausages for guests and attendant staff,” Oliver recollected. “If there was a nearby stream, the Queen would also insist on doing the washing up – much to the dismay of the staff.”
It would appear, then, that Oliver was essentially the first royal kitchen insider to spill all. But now, it seems, former palace staff do the same thing rather frequently. In 2018, for instance, chef Mark Flanagan appeared in an ITV documentary called Queen of the World and discussed what he thought the Queen’s favorite meal was.
And it seems that the Queen may be coming around to spicy food after all. According to Flanagan, you see, she’s recently started eating Caribbean dishes. “The callaloo soup was an absolute sensation,” he informed the documentary makers. “I had email after email telling me that it must now feature more regularly.”
So now, thanks in part to all the cooks who have given interviews or published books over the years, royal fans know what to expect on the menu should they ever be invited to dine with the Queen. Lots of delicious food is on offer, with your own tastes taken into account… and absolutely no slugs are involved.