Are the meals at Kensington Palace anything like yours? Photo: Getty Images
Some chefs have a reputation for screaming fits and making plates fly, but the stereotype hardly suits the soft-spoken Carolyn Robb, who between 1989 and 2000 held one of the most coveted jobs in the food industry: personal chef to Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Princes William and Harry.
She got the royal gig after a few years cooking for the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, who’d plucked her straight from the British cooking school Cordon Bleu Cookery. One night, Prince Charles and Princess Diana swung by for dinner, and that was that. She began cooking three square meals a day for the royal family soon after.
Though the job was glamorous in some respects, it was certainly not for someone seeking the limelight. “I think they selected those of us who were very quiet to interview,” Robb said of her first employers, who later recommended her to the royal couple.
“It was brilliant,” Robb recalled. “Every day was different. You never knew what you were going to do — we could be doing sausage and mash for two little boys, or on the other end of the spectrum, steak night for 100 people.” She’s since compiled some of the royal family’s favorite recipes in a new cookbook, The Royal Touch, plus some new dishes she thinks they’d have enjoyed.
So how did the royal family chow down? Read on for the answer.
It turns out that the famous clan didn’t actually eat like royalty. At least not on a Tuesday.
“It was really simple home cooking,” Robb said, dispelling notions of bottomless caviar buffets and towering plates of chocolate bonbons. “It was the kind of food I grew up on, and I think the kind of food everyone likes every day.” There was plenty of traditional British fare — think shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and roast chicken — as well as Italian dishes including risotto and pasta topped with fresh vegetables.
Forget normal grocery shopping. Many of the veggies were sourced from Kensington Palace’s lush kitchen garden.
“We used a lot of produce that was fresh from the garden, so [the average menu] was seasonal. The garden is beautiful. The prince is a real advocate for organics.”
Carolyn Robb in her kitchen today. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Robb
Prince William and Prince Harry weren’t picky eaters.
“Generally, they were really easy to feed as children. Princess Diana was the one who oversaw what they ate. They were really good eaters. I’ve got two of my own girls now, and I realize just how good they were. They ate just good, balanced, healthy diet.
They did enjoy occasional indulgences, though. In The Royal Touch, Robb describes the golden treacle tarts that Prince Harry loved as a child.
“When HRH Prince Harry was very young I used to make miniature treacle tarts for him. I kept a supply of them in the freezer, so that they were available at a moment’s notice. Once, when he came into the kitchen to get one, I asked him to check with HRH The Princess of Wales if he could have one. He re-appeared moments later with a slip of paper in his hand. It read, ‘Mummy says it’s ok!’ in Princess Diana’s handwriting. I have always treasured this wonderful little note!”
Chocolate biscuit cake. Photo: Simon Brown
Prince William, however, had a thing for Robb’s chocolate biscuit cake.
“It’s really simple: It’s crushed digestive biscuits” — that’s British for cookie — ”with some chocolate, some butter, some cocoa powder, dried figs, and pistachios.” Prince William liked the dessert so much that years later, he asked for it as his groom’s cake for his wedding to Kate Middleton.
The only thing missing from the royal diet? Garlic.
“They were really easy to please, but the one thing we didn’t use was garlic, for obvious reasons. They were very aware of being in close proximity to the public.”
Prince Charles and Princess Diana would send Robb little notes of admiration. Here’s one from Princess Diana:
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Robb
And one from Prince Charles:
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Robb
Sometimes, Robb had company in the kitchen.
The princes “used to come into the kitchen sometimes, and it was fun to cook with them,” Robb said. “When they were tiny, it was cakes and cookies. As they got a bit older, they wanted to learn other things: spaghetti Bolognese, chicken Kiev — the kinds of things teenaged boys like to eat.” As for their cooking skills today? “I think they’re both very proficient in the kitchen now.”
Robb is tremendously proud of her time at Kensington Palace, but her life — near Oxford, an hour outside London — is much different now.
“It’s a very different lifestyle,” she admitted. There’s no dashing off to Nepal for a state visit on a moment’s notice, or whipping up lunch for an afternoon jaunt to Scotland. “I’m actually quite happy just to be at home and be with my girls,” she said.
More dishes fit for royalty:
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