Q & A With Darren McGrady, Princess Diana's Former Chef: The Royal Family's Kitchen, Why He Moved Stateside + The Next Royal Wedding
Darren McGrady's résumé reads pretty much like your average private chef's story. He earned a culinary arts degree and trained in a top restaurant kitchen (Savoy Hotel, London) before hitting the private sector -- and then you get to that Buckingham Palace line. The Nottinghamshire native worked as a private chef for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and their guests from 1982 until 1993, when he became Princess Diana's private chef (until her death in 1997). It was, of course, the sort of job that involved giving everyone the royal treatment, regardless of whether that pheasant with pearl barley risotto was destined for President Clinton's plate or the Queen's twelve Welsh corgis.
Aaron Lynette, Toronto Star Darren McGrady, Expat Yorkshire Pudding Expert
McGrady left Buckingham Palace shortly after Diana died (Charles offered him a job as his private chef, but McGrady politely declined). Within a year, he moved to the U.S. with his wife and three young children, where he works as a private chef for a Dallas family during the week, and volunteers for charity events most weekends. Texas? It's not quite as crazy of a cross-the-pond move as it might sound. McGrady works for a family in Highland Park, a neighborhood known for its palatial homes owned by the sort of folks who still send out engraved invitations for weeknight dinner parties. Turn the page for our interview with the chef about his days in the royal kitchen.
Squid Ink: The obvious question first. How did you end up in Dallas?
scanlonweb.com A Buckingham Palace Party Invitation From McGrady's Kitchen Tenure
Darren McGrady: After Princess Diana died, I was out of work. Charles wanted me to work for him at Highgrove [the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall's family home], but I always thought I would eventually be the chef to William and Harry, not him. I always say I felt the Princess was looking down at me and saying, "You're not going to cook for that woman now, are you?" [Laughs] I mean Camilla, of course. Also, after coming back from L.A. or New York, the Princess would always say to me that we must move to America. I would just laugh and tell her to give me a few minutes to pack some clothes and the juicer.
SI: But you didn't go to L.A. or New York.
DM: I had come over to Texas in 1991 with the Queen so I could cook for Presidents Reagan and Ford, and I just loved it here, really. Very nice people. After Diana died, I set about sending out my résumé once my wife and I got Visas, which took about a year, and I landed here. My daughter was only a one-year-old when we moved here, now all three of my children have Texas accents. When my parents come over [from England] to visit, they can't understand a word the children say.
SI: Your cookbook is pretty great, by the way. It's a solid read, a compelling portrait of food life among the Royal Family, no sensationalist gossip about the Royal Family or Diana. You seem to really respect her.
DM: Thanks. Yes, she taught me so much. When Diana walked into a room, it was like a beacon of light, truly. There's no other way to say it. Any charity she took on, the profits increased ten-fold. She had like a magic wand. If she waved it around in any direction, whatever she touched turned to gold. She's the reason I've donated all the proceeds from my book to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation. It combined her two nonprofit loves -- children and AIDS. Do you know it? It's L.A. based, you know.
I also have it set up so if another nonprofit, like SafeHaven women's shelter where I just was giving a talk, sells the books directly, they earn money also [The second nonprofit receives what would have been the book retailer's profit margin.]. Diana would be pleased with that.
SI: And the cookbook has done well?