The anatomy of a state banquet: A chef reveals what the Queen has for supper

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Indy Lifestyle Online

"The banquets are run like military operations," says Darren McGrady, who served as senior chef to the Queen (1982-93) and as royal chef to Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry from 1993 to 1997.

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"The secret was that we would go through the same procedure again and again and again. The only thing that would change was the visiting king and queen and the menu.

"While the President of the United States has a designated chef, we did things different. For a banquet of 156, we did 156 portions of food. The Palace Steward would then pick one plate for the Queen. We never knew which he'd take. If a person wanted to poison the Queen, they'd have to poison the whole lot – and it meant the standard of every plate had to be perfect."

"Windsor Castle has 952 items of cutlery and 816 of glassware in its collection."

"The flowers will usually be donated to a local charity – such as a hospice or old people's home – after the banquet."

"F (for Food) branch is the kitchens and G (for General) branch includes the service staff. The F and G assistants to the master of the house coordinate the banquets. G branch arranges the seating plan which has to be sent to the Foreign Office for final approval. The Queen always sits centrally next to the guest of honour. A sprig of parsley would often be used to identify her plate."

"While up to 156 guests will eat in St George's Hall, there could be anything up to 150 staff to be fed before and 150 security and ladies-in-waiting in an ante-room."

"Using a 'rule of thumb', the bottom end of the cutlery is one thumb-length from the table edge."

"Just outside the hall, there is a holding area where chefs finish up – adding vegetables, sauce and fleurons."

"Ice-cream bombe is a popular pudding. The Queen likes it and it is easy to serve, looks pretty, comes in many varieties and has a Victorian, sort of 19th-century, Escoffier traditionalism to it."

"Dessert fruit is eaten with a knife and fork. A banana is slit from either end, cut into discs with a knife, and eaten with a fork. Each guest is provided with a water bowl for their fingers. Pears are eaten like hard-boiled eggs: the stalk end being removed and then the flesh is eaten with a spoon to leave the core."

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The banquets are run like military operations (Getty Images)

"The butler will lean in over the left shoulder with the meat dish and allow the guest to serve themselves the meat, and then the vegetable dish, before moving on to the next guest. We have two services spare as someone will always take extra portions."

"A cruet-stand is always in reach and each guest has an individual butter dish."

"For the Royal family, pudding is the sweet course after the main course. Dessert is something to have afterwards, usually fruit. If we want 48 pears, our stockist Hyams & Cockerton brings 150 and we choose the ones we want. Once, we sent them back to London to get more."

"Once the menu is decided, a copy goes to the kitchen for food ordering and one goes to the State Office for printing. It will be planned six months ahead with any allergies, likes, dislikes, or religious factors to be considered. Four balanced menu options are sent to the Queen. She will pick one and sometimes circle a pudding from another."

"A green and red lighting system, hidden in the balustrades of the far balcony, tell the footmen when to begin service."

"There are five different glasses: toasting glass with Champagne, white wine with first course, red wine with the beef, Champagne with the sweet, and port."

"A 27-inch stick is used to measure the distance between the table-edge and the back of the chair."

"The footmen take huge oval gilt trays which serve each portion. Usually, the main elements are plated up on to large oval gilt dishes and taken from the kitchens, covered in paper towels and cloches. This used to be done by footmen in a train, but they installed elevators after the 1992 fire."

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