Set before the queen
As Britain's monarch celebrates 69 years on the throne, Sue De Groot finds out what dainty dishes she prefers
According to the reports of palace informants, HM Elizabeth II has simple tastes. Perhaps because she has to eat sea slugs, rodents and other less palatable things on official tours, at home she prefers plain cooking. She can't abide curry (too spicy) and likes nothing better than good old roast beef on a Sunday. Which may be why the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London are called Beefeaters, rather than curryeaters.
Her Majesty hates waste. Having lived through post-war rationing, she has a thrifty streak and often instructs kitchen staff to prepare rissoles or shepherd's pie from leftovers. Her current head chef, Mark Flanagan, is renowned for his cost-cutting methods, which made him unpopular with staff but helped earn him an MVO (Member of the Victorian Order) for his services to the sovereign.
Even though she doesn't demand extravagant dishes, cooking for the Queen is no picnic. She likes everything to be just so. To avoid the potential embarrassment of HM smiling at a dignitary with debris stuck between her tiny, even teeth, all pips have to be removed from her tomatoes. According to a 2004 BBC documentary called All The Queen's Cooks, it can take staff up to three hours to prepare her table. And she likes the crusts cut off her sandwiches.
The documentary also revealed that she prefers strong tea (a brand specially blended for her) with a few drops of milk - who would've guessed? - and like James Bond she is a fan of the dry martini, shaken, not stirred, with a twist of lemon.
As far as sweet things go, scones are right up there - again, who would have thought it - along with ice cream and bread-and-butter pudding.
Chefs once employed by the Queen include Gary Rhodes, who told a TV audience how hard it was to avoid eye contact with her. "How can you not look at her? She's the Queen," he said. "The problem was she happened to glance at me when I was having a sneaky look at her. Bang! We made eye contact. I thought I was going to get fired." Anna Wintour would have fired him, but he kept his palace job, perhaps because he was good at getting stubborn pips out of tomatoes.
While the Queen might forgive bad manners in the dining room, her wrath is extreme if her dogs receive anything less than three-Michelin-star treatment. One of the things QEII is most famous for is creating a new breed of dog, the dorgi, a cross between a corgi and a dachshund. She currently has four corgis (Linnet, Monty, Willow and Holly) and three dorgis (Cider, Candy and Vulcan) and loves them dearly. Each Christmas she personally selects their gifts of biscuits, choc drops and squeakless toys. So imagine the public horror last year when the Daily Mail ran a shocking exposé revealing that the royal pets, instead of getting freshly cooked food made to order, were being fed frozen meals.
The report stated that while on holiday at Balmoral, the Queen dished up her pets' cooked meat with homemade gravy and found an icy patch in the middle. Being no slouch in the brains department, she deduced that the chef had reheated the food instead of making it from scratch. An unnamed footman was quoted as saying: "She went bonkers."
Cooking for the royal household is fraught with danger, but there are benefits. Some years ago, chef Antony Worrall Thompson was stopped for speeding. When he told the police he was on his way to cook for the Queen, whom he served above the law, they let him continue. He may have tried the same thing in his recent shoplifting incident, but it probably wouldn't have washed, since the Queen gets all her groceries delivered.
Her majesty's pantry
If you've ever wondered how products like Kellogg's cereals, Cadbury Dairy Milk, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Nescafé coffee get to say "By appointment to Her Majesty" on their labels, it's because the Queen says they can. The Royal Warrant, regarded by British manufacturers as the ultimate seal of approval, is a mark of recognition that can be awarded by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales to companies that have regularly supplied goods or services to them for at least five years. For a list of warrant holders see www.royalwarrant.org.
Last year upmarket London department store Harvey Nichols did a roaring trade in royal wedding mugs depicting Prince William as a fruit and his bride as a fish - "Quince William and Skate Middleton". The store's more respectful Jubilee offering is a plastic lunchbox containing six cornflake cakes made with chocolate. The Queen loves cornflakes and is reported to keep hers in a Tupperware container. On the lid of the Harvey Nichs version (£14.95) is the tastefully inscribed legend: "God save our gracious Queen. Keep her cornflakes pristine."
The jubilee lunch
Jubilee fever has been running at full steam, grill and bake in the UK food world for the past few weeks. By far the most popular dish being served at Jubilee lunches today is coronation chicken, created by Rosemary Hume for QEII's coronation lunch in 1953. Hume's recipe, published in The Constance Spry Cookery Book in 1956, consists of poached chicken in a creamy curry mayonnaise sauce with a salad of rice, peas, cucumber and herbs.