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BRIT WEEK 2016 Features Former Royal Chef

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(Gerry Furth-Sides) Actor Lesley Nicol, who became the most beloved character, as Mrs. Patmore the cook, on the Downton Abbey television series, alone proved more than enough reason to accept an invitation to a preview tasting for the 10th Anniversary, week-long BRIT WEEK extravaganza of cultural events all over Los Angeles (www.Britweek.com).

Ms. Nicol turned out to be be even more wonderful than her character – telling us that her best lines were put on a wall hanging for her by fellow actor, Sophia McShera, the character who played Daisy.  She told me that we’d be seeing a lot more of her since she happily now lives in LA.

The second reason that turned out to be most entertaining was meeting Darren McGrady, former royal chef to the late Princes Diana.  IMG_7435A man aware of “his station” of importance as the director of the kitchen one of the most powerful and intriguing families in the world, he is a man easily in command and humble. The chef may have been describing his insiders’ look into the palace for the 100th time but   as pleased as he was the first time around. (He cooked for Camilla but never met her in person.)

The next evening Chef corrected me:  “it must be in the thousands!”

And yes I am forever prejudiced because as a new resident to the United States he already made citizenship.  How did he happen to work in Texas as a private chef and event caterer? In his words.   “I just sent out my resume after Princess Diana passed away, and the first answer was from  Houston, Texas.”  He told us that in this country the generations are split about what they eat.  With the older Texans it’s “bring on the steak, mashed potatoes and biscuits, and plenty of them!”  With the younger generation the preference is for the Bone Broth Diet dishes, he sighed.

No stranger to diets, Chef McGrady reported that the royal children happily ate dishes from all cuisines – pizza included.  Chef McGrady laughed, recalling how Princess Diana became concerned about eating healthy.  “She told me, ‘you mind the fats, and I’ll take care of the carbohydrates at the gym.’  When Oprah Winfrey came to tea, she a tea she could not get over how trim the princess was when she was eating the rich Bread and Butter Pudding. IMG_7403 (2) “I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Princess Diana had a version with no fat, and Oprah had one with fat in it!  And I couldn’t bring myself to tell her  when I made the Bread and Butter Pudding on her show five years later either!” The pudding story is in the link below, with many stories in his book, Eating Royally.  He is writing a second book now.

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The scene was the dining room of the British Consulate in the luxurious, elegant Hancock Park area of the city.  The host was Consul General Chris O’ Conner.

IMG_7362The British Royal Family’s favorite desserts, created by Chef Darren McGrady for the late Princess Diana and the Princes’ were previewed at the British Consulate in Hancock Park prior to  being being served at the May 1stBritWeek10 Anniversary Gala at the Fairmont Hotel.IMG_7442

The idea was to “get a feel for what it was like preparing the English dessert puddings and cakes, and serving etiquette, for royalty and aristocrats from the 1900’s to today.  That agenda sailed right out the window from the start.  No one minded. The chef regaled the group with stories about the two chocolate cakes on the table, and a Bread and Butter – lots of butter- Pudding we could smell baking in the oven.

IMG_7397The table was set for tea in the gracious dining area off the main hall, complete with two-story ceilings, paneled walls and sunlight streaming through huge windows on two sides of the room, framed by the greenery of the manicured gardens outside.

The chocolate cake of honor had “Happy Birthday” was written on it.  It is the cake presented to Queen Elizabeth on her birthday because it is a family favorite.  It must be  in the DNA by now because has been served to every monarch on their birthday since Queen Victoria.    Chef McGrady explained that no matter whose birthday it was in the family, this was the only inscription on the cake. When it was served to the family and guests, a fresh slice from the kitchen would replace the plate with the one that had been nibbled on until the cake was gone.

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The chef took great delight in mentioning that Prince William loved the biscuit cake almost a much as Queen Elizabeth.  He even chose it for his grooms cake at his wedding. “When I did a menu,” he reported,” a line would be drawn through another dessert, such as a ginger cake, and she would write in the name of this one.”  He remembered that a new young chef once mistakenly ate pieces of a fresh cake made for the next day.  “It had to cool so we were very anxious until the new cake was done!”

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We found it novel with the crunch in every bite, and a challenge to cut and eat.  Following is the recipe and the video is below.

All this seems to answer why What every English event in Los Angeles becomes festive, buoyant and polished all at the same time,   We certainly put out of mind all past history except that of the “allied” kind.  We know that the British are perfectly at ease in America – and seem taken back with surprise that Americans appear to be obsessed with all British culture in a sort of fairy tale way. With the fairy tale told in a shared language  with a marvelous, elevating clipped accent?  And these days, the food is also topnotch.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Makes 1 cake – 10 portions

Her Majesty the Queens favourite afternoon tea cake by far. This cake is probably the only one that is sent into the Royal dining room again and again until it has all gone.

4 ounces dark chocolate.(for the cake)

4 ounces granulated sugar.

4 ounces unsalted butter. (softened)

1 egg.

8 ounces Rich tea biscuits.

½ teaspoon butter for greasing.

8 ounces dark chocolate (for coating)

1 ounce chocolate (for decoration)

  1. Lightly grease a 6 inch by 2 ½ inch cake ring and place on a tray on a sheet of parchment paper.
  2. Break each of the biscuits into almond size pieces by hand and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until the mixture starts to lighten.
  4. Melt the 4 ounces of chocolate and add to the butter mixture whilst constantly stirring.
  5. Beat in the egg to the mixture.
  6. Fold in the biscuit pieces until they are all coated with the chocolate mixture.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake ring. Try to fill all of the gaps on the bottom of the ring because this will be the top when it is un-molded.
  8. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least three hours.
  9. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand while you melt the 8 ounces of chocolate.
  10. Slide the ring off the cake and turn it upside down onto a cake wire.
  11. Pour the melted chocolate over the cake and smooth the top and sides using a palette knife.
  12. Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature.
  13. Carefully run a knife around the bottom of the cake where the chocolate has stuck it to the cake wire and lift it onto a tea plate.
  14. Melt the remaining 1 ounce of chocolate and use to decorate the top of the cake.
 Below are the proud producers of Brit Week.  
For events and details, please see: www.britweek.org.

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