Antimonarchists, republicans, and opponents of Twee may click past with a sneer, but dang if this weekend’s Secrets of the Royal Kitchen on WE TV wasn’t kind of interesting. It was also overlong, full of bad production values, and really quite grandmother’s-cardigan sedate, but still, fun! The show’s big hook was an interview with former royal chef Graham Newbould, who cooked for the Windsors 20 years ago. The point being that every one who’s since been in the royals’ employ is bound by a confidentiality agreement–except for the Daily Mirror reporter who scammed his way into a footman’s job a few years ago and took scandalous photos of the Tupperware containers on the Queen’s breakfast table.
Most of the program comprised Newbould demonstrating how he made dishes for the royal family: duck bigarade, what I think he said they called “haddock St. Germain” (the royal version of fish ‘n chips–pretty little haddock fillets in what looked like panko crumbs. Although doesn’t “St. Germain” mean “with peas”?), prime rib–all classic French/English cuisine that was, frankly, sort of a pleasure to see made, every roasted potato carved with its correct seven sides. He prepared the Chuck-n-Di wedding breakfast (including a chicken dish made with lamb mousse that’s named after Diana) and even showed how he made the royal dogs’ favorite dish (cabbage, lamb’s liver, rice). In that sequence his narration was laid over footage of a pretend QEII in her nerdy outdoor schmatte (wellies, green coat, headscarf), letting pretend royal corgis out of a Land Rover.
The program was basically silly–50 minutes of this-is-what-they-would-have-eaten TV, combined with the usual talking heads and clips of the Windsors. But the funny thing that came through is that in their own very stodgy, uncool, hidebound way, the royal family has managed to become somewhat au courant, gastronomically. OK, in some ways they’re not remotely (the Queen is apparently very fond of Mateus Rose), but their insistence on things staying the same has ensured that they can still get super-thick Windsor Dairy double cream, which, once out of favor, people now clamor for. Or fresh local produce. Or salmon right out of the river at Balmoral. Long before Delia Smith was making it okay to laud homegrown English foods, they were doing the same, in their own completely self-serving way.
This is clearest when you look at Prince Charles’ pet organic farming interests, which used to get him called a wacky effete dreamer. My favorite moment in the documentary was a scene at the Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove, where, due to the Prince’s involvement in the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, they raise what are officially called (in very Monty Python fashion) Large Black pigs. Large Black pigs fell out of favor in recent years because they are quite fatty, but they apparently yield unusually succulent bacon. There was a shot of a pensive Highgrove staff member who said almost hesitantly, as if he were revealing something very naughty, “the Prince of Wales reallllllly likes this bacon, I have to say.”
If you find the whole idea of royalty distasteful, there was a lot to be appalled with in this program: The servant/royal ratio, the fact that Charles, who rides the idea of local produce so hard, has his own delivered from Highgrove to Balmoral every day on vacation, the Queen traveling with crates of bottled water. Myself, I didn’t mind. I’ll watch anything about anybody’s kitchen: my interest here isn’t the royals per se, but a chronic fascination with the domestic–the trivial round, the common task. On that score, it delivered.