Inside the Royal Kitchen with Carolyn Robb, Chef to Prince Charles and Princess Diana
The former chef for the Royal Family prepared lunch for the Dalai Lama, foraged for wild mushrooms with Prince Charles and toted cream from the Royal Dairy on trips to Bhutan. Here, a peek inside the palace kitchen.
Carolyn Robb knows her way around a royal kitchen. As the chef for Prince Charles, Princess Diana and young princes William and Harry from 1989 to 2000, Robb prepared lavish feasts for visiting dignitaries, foraged for wild mushrooms with Charles in Scotland and stocked tiny treacle tarts in the freezer for Harry. Here, Carolyn offers a glimpse into life with the royals, from preparing lunch for the Dalai Lama to baking with the young princes. Plus, her ideal menu to celebrate the littlest royal, Princess Charlotte. Robb's new book, The Royal Touch: Simply Stunning Home Cooking from a Former Royal Chef, is out this month.
On landing the job of a lifetime: When I was 21, I was invited to go to Kensington Palace and interview for a job cooking for the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. I was quite nervous! The Duke and Duchess lived next door to Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the palace. Almost exactly two years later, Princess Diana herself interviewed me and invited me to cook a trial meal for she and the Prince. It was quite a lot of being in the right place at the right time.
On gardening with Prince Charles: His Royal Highness was really one of the forerunners of the organic movement. His farm at Highgrove House was one of the first in the UK to be certified as fully organic. He also had a traditional English kitchen garden with vegetables and fruit trees. We planned all of the menus around what was in the garden. I think Prince Charles saw it as a way of offering good hospitality. He could say to his guests, “These are my carrots from the garden.”
On what to cook world leaders: Once the Dalai Lama came for lunch. We had to do a lot of research to find out exactly what he would eat or not eat. Many other amazing people came over the years: Bill Clinton, Barbra Streisand, Elton John.
On her favorite note from Prince Charles: On one thank-you note that I received, the handwriting looks different. His Royal Highness had broken his right arm playing polo and had it wrapped in a plaster cast. So he wrote the note to me using his left hand instead. It must’ve taken him twice as long. To me, that just said it all.
On Princess Diana as a mom: Princess Diana really oversaw what the children ate. She made sure they had a healthy, balanced diet with traditional British children’s food like shepherd’s pie. She was very much a hands-on mother.
On the princes’ snack time: The boys were quite disciplined, like their parents. They didn’t snack between meals. Sometimes they would ask for a snack, but they would never come in and rummage through the fridge.
On kitchen chats with princes William and Harry: When the boys were quite small, they’d come into the kitchen and we would bake together. Lots of cakes and cookies! Then when they were teenagers at Eton College and began to cook for themselves, I would teach them how to make simple meals—things like spaghetti Bolognese or chicken Kiev.
On royal wedding cakes: Prince William had a chocolate biscuit cake as his groom’s cake, which is something I used to make for the boys when they were little. It was fun that he chose to have that at his wedding. Groom's cakes weren't a British tradition before the Royal Wedding, but they are now!
On the Cambridges in the kitchen: I think Prince William has always enjoyed his time with Kate’s family, because they’re a very normal family. They have breakfast in the kitchen, that sort of thing. So I think Prince William wants that for his own family for as long as possible. I'm sure Kate will teach her children to cook herself, and I think Prince William is competent in the kitchen as well!
On a celebration for the Royal Baby: The birth of Princess Charlotte is such a bright spot. To celebrate, I’d prepare something light and summery. To start: an asparagus salad with quail’s eggs, wild rocket and crunchy Parmesan. Then lamb with herb-roasted sweet peppers and zucchini. And for dessert, a classic: vanilla ice cream with compote of summer berries and fresh mint. I’d like that. I don’t know if anybody else would, but I would!
On her new book: It’s not a tell-all book, but I wanted to portray what incredible employers Prince Charles and Princess Diana were. I think everybody knows it’s an enormous privilege to work for the Royal Family, but I wanted to give a glimpse into just how kind and caring they really were. And I didn’t plan it to come out when the new little baby was born. That was just in the lap of the gods.