Speaking in a YouTube tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, former royal chef Darren McGrady has shared several memories of when Philip used to join the chefs in the kitchens – be it at Buckingham Palace, Sandringham or Balmoral Castle.
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Darren recounted a funny story of how he mistook the Prince for a gardener the first time he met him in the kitchens at Balmoral; Philip was dressed in a ‘tatty sweater’ and was looking for the head chef late at night.
“After that, he came into the kitchen four or five times a week,” tells Darren. “He’d often come in and just discuss the barbecues. He loved to cook, loved to cook on the grill. Prince Harry called him the ‘master of the barbecue’ and he really was.
Prince Philip and Princess Anne cook on the barbecue together at Balmoral
“He’d come into the kitchen after afternoon tea and the chefs would be shouting all the way around: ‘The Duke’s down, the Duke’s down’, just getting ready to discuss with him what he wanted for dinner that night.”
“I think all of the chefs used to enjoy it when the Duke came into the kitchen to talk about a barbecue. He’d always been into the garden that morning or something and he knew what was ripe.
“He walked and he’d checked everything. Were there lots of strawberries ripening, were the vegetables ripe? He had these plums that grew at Balmoral that were just amazing and often you’d see him in the garden stood there picking these gorgeous Victoria plums.”
The Queen and late husband Philip at Balmoral
Darren explained: “You had to stay on top of everything. When he came into the kitchen and said: ‘What are we having tonight?’ and: ‘Are there any strawberries in the garden?’ that was a loaded question (laughs). He knew there were strawberries in the garden if he was saying that, and you’d better know as well. He didn’t suffer fools gladly.”
We love the story of the time the Duke preferred the staff’s supper to his own.
Darren recalls: “He came into the kitchen and said, ‘What have we got for dinner tonight?’ and I said, ‘Your royal highness it’s the lamb, the noisettes of lamb.
“I opened the fridge and he pulled them out and he said, ‘Well what about these, what are these?’ I said, ‘Oh that’s leg of lamb steaks, that’s for the staff’. He looked at the tiny little noisettes and the big leg of lamb steaks and he said, ‘We’ll have those.’ So I had to thaw some chicken really quickly for the staff!”
Royal chefs at work in the Buckingham Palace kitchens
Philip was also a dab hand at preparing fruit, as Darren remembers.
In the video, he says: “Once at Sandringham, we had Mango Melba on the menu for royal dinner. The Duke came into the kitchen and I was just peeling and slicing the mangos, and he just stood there and watched.
“He said: ‘That’s not the proper way to peel a mango’. Then he came over and said: ‘Give me a knife, give me a spoon,’ and he took the mango and cut around the edges. Then he scooped in with a spoon on both sides and opened it, and did the same the other side around the stone.
“He was so excited. He was so proud that he’d actually shown the chefs the proper way to do a mango.”
The Duke had a keen interest in food
Darren talked about Prince Philip’s sense of humour, too. “He was cheeky, like Prince Harry said,” he remembers.
“I glanced across to the fruit cupboard one day at Balmoral Castle and I saw someone in there. I could just see their back. I shouted across through the window, ‘Hello, can I help you?’ and then I realised that it was the Duke!
“He just stuck his head round and I said, ‘Oh I’m sorry your royal highness, I thought someone was stealing the fruit’. He just looked back, smiled, and said, ‘Well I am’.”