In the run-up to the Queen’s birthday celebrations,we’ve teamed up with Carolyn Robb, the royal chef. In her latest book, “The Royal Touch: Simply Stunning Home Cooking from a Royal Chef”, Carolyn presents the food that she loves to serve to her family and friends; food that is fit for a royal, yet accessible to us all!
Carolyn has always loved cooking; she grew up cooking with her Mum in South Africa, and attended the Tante Marie School of Cookery, before being hired by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. In something of a fairy tale turn, she was appointed the first female and youngest Personal Chef to TRH Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry for ten years while living at Kensington Palace.
Carolyn is now working hard on developing her brand ‘The Royal Touch’. Along the way, she has also lived in Dubai for two years where she headed up a company importing gourmet foods, hosted a culinary radio program, was a published restaurant critic and culinary consultant to a number of premium hotels. Quite the list of accomplishments!
In honour of the Queen’s 90th Birthday, we asked Carolyn what life was like cooking for the Royal family.
It’s a bit like asking us to pick our favourite wine, but do you have a favourite dish?
I have many favourites but this one tops the list! Homemade gnocchi (that has been crisped in butter) served with fresh tomato concasse and buffalo mozzarella, topped with a generous dollop of homemade pesto and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan and a twist of black pepper. I like to accompany this with a salad of green leaves and avocado that has been dressed with lemon juice and good olive oil.
What sort of dishes does the Queen and Royal family really like?
They all enjoy simple seasonal dishes and they have very healthy diets. HRH The Prince of Wales loves nothing better than fruit and vegetables freshly picked from his garden. A typical menu might be: Double baked cheese soufflé with creamed leeks followed by homemade pasta with garden vegetables and pesto and finally homemade vanilla ice cream with freshly picked summer berries (from the garden as well!)
What was the most interesting food you had to prepare?
One of the most enjoyable times of the year for me was wild mushroom season. We always travelled to Balmoral in August when there was an abundance of wild mushrooms growing on the estate. Wandering through the woods filling baskets with wild mushrooms was a lovely escape from the kitchen! We would pick big quantities and prepare them in a variety of ways; freezing them, drying them etc so that we had a supply that kept us going for the next 12 months. I loved learning about all the different varieties and it was vital to know which ones to pick and which ones not to pick!
Were there ever any really unusual requests?
No, fortunately I was never asked to cook anything that I wasn’t familiar with or didn’t recognise!
Was there ever such a thing as an average day?
What I loved most about the job was that every day was different -I cooked in a diversity of locations; palaces and castles all over the world, HMY Britannia, on the Royal Train and on the Queen’s Flight . I prepared food for everything from nursery supper for 2 young princes to banquets for several hundred people, catering to a variety of different tastes and dietary requirements. However the daily schedule remained similar wherever we were – we prepared 3 meals a day (4 including afternoon tea) so started work early and generally finished quite late in the evening. The days were long but I loved what I was doing so never really noticed the long hours.
How much travel was involved? Anywhere particularly memorable?
There was a lot of travel, between royal residences in the UK and also abroad. Two trips that were highlights for me were being in Hong Kong for the handover in 1997 and also a trip to Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. Visiting Bhutan was incredible – what a uniquely fascinating culture it has and what a beautiful country it is.
Was matching wines to the food a big concern for the royal kitchen? Did you ever have to prepare a dish to match a particular wine?
It was necessary to match wines to food for large events but it was not an everyday concern. I did sometimes have to find the right dish to pair with a special wine from the royal cellars.
What would you serve with a lovely glass of English sparkling wine?
For a picnic I would serve crab sandwiches. For a lovely light summers lunch I would serve seared scallops with a hint of ginger followed by a pear and almond tart
What’s your favourite way to unwind?
What I most enjoy in the summer is to pack a picnic, jump on our bikes and head off to the woods or down to the river with my girls, who are 7 and 3. Nothing can beat sunshine, fresh air, good food and the laughter of children…..
We have three copies of Carolyn’s book to give away, all you need to do is enter our free competition below!