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What the Queen Eats

What the Queen Eats

Royal Food: An Interview with chef Michael Sealey who prepared the Queen of England's favorite royal dishes for over 40-years.

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At all hours of the day, her majesty the Queen Mother of England enjoyed her favourite specialty: oeufs Drumkilbo, a kind of shrimp cocktail with fresh mayonnaise, tabasco and anchovy paté, made by her personal chef, Michael Sealey, who spent 40 years in her service. At tea time, she might go with her friends to enjoy the dish at the Goring Hotel in Belgravia, the only place outside of royal walls with permission to use the original recipe that was also loved by her own daughter, Elizabeth II

It was also a particular passion of her grandson, Prince Charles, who wanted to include it in the menu for his wedding with Lady Diana in 1981. Another of the Queen Mother’s favourite dishes was served at the latest royal wedding, the one for William and Kate: roasted saddle of Mey Selections lamb, which takes 24 hours of preparation and is one of William’s favourite.

A party-goer and great lover of picnics at her summer residence of Mey castle in Cornwall, the Queen Mother would study every menu meticulously, marking each page with her golden signet and passing it to the chef that would follow her everywhere. 

She’d give him suggestions for the next day and dole out compliments for what she’d just enjoyed, signalling the termination of each course by ringing a raspberry-coloured crystal bell. Each meal was a special occasion and the apotheosis of a personal mania: as her relatives, Prince Charles included, and the servants recount in the book A Taste of Mey, (just recently published in Great Britain), each moment of her day was accompanied by a little bit of something tasty. 

Like her beloved jam puffs, which were served at every picnic, when guests would whisper suggestions on how to eat them without getting their faces dirty. She loved enjoying snacks outdoors with glasses of rosé champagne, as well as gin and Dubonnet or Bloody Bull, a kind of Bloody Mary that Elizabeth first tried in 1965. She believed that a glass or two helped to “create the right atmosphere” during social occasions. 

The entire Royal Family, before and after the Queen Mother, has always been much discussed for its culinary tastes. For example, it’s commonly known that Queen Victoria fell in love with ostrich eggs after a trip to the French Riviera, and was a big fan of rice and curry that she had two Indian waiters serve while dressed in blue and gold uniforms. Her daily breakfast was frugal in terms of ingredients, but fastidious in the way it was served: the Queen would eat a simple soft-boiled egg, served in a gold-plated egg cup with a golden spoon. 

Queen Elizabeth II, like her predecessor, appreciated simple dishes: scrambled eggs, smoked haddock, grapes, and barbecued meats that the Prince Consort would prepare, along with sautéed mushrooms that he would prepare – along with sausage and ribs for the servants. And it seems that Prince Philip had the most demanding palate of the family. Upon returning from his frequent voyages, he would often ask his cooks to prepare the same dishes that he’d tasted abroad, and would reprimand them if the result didn’t correspond exactly to his memories. To satisfy his passion for international cuisine, he sent his chef Ronald Aubrey to train at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, to learn from the best chefs in France. 

Like his father, Prince Charles loved to linger, curious, in the royal kitchens. At the age of 10, he tried to make his first fruit popsicles (orange and strawberry were his favourite flavours) and would check on the boiling water for the tea and the toasted bread before breakfast. Today, following in the family tradition, he doesn’t have particular enthusiasm for elaborate dishes.

More elaborate, instead, are the stories about Lady Diana: while she would often order a simple salad, some of the chefs that used to serve her tell about her passion for lobster quichefoie gras, chicken livers and fresh pasta, as well as her weakness for honey, ginger and cilantro dressing. 

What all members of the royal family agree on – no matter what generation they belong to – is the ritual of high tea: served at 5 o’clock sharp, when “everything stops” and tea is poured alongside cucumber sandwiches and the famous scones whose secret recipe was given to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who hand-wrote a thank-you letter to the Queen after having tasted them.

For the Queen, the Dundee cake – the famous English cake with almonds and raisins, is a tea-time requirement. Which is why, whenever she travels, she brings a small portion of the cake with her.

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