Darren McGrady, who was a personal chef to the Queen, Prince William, Prince Harry and the late Princess Diana, recently launched a YouTube channel to share his tips and recipes he's cooking during the coronavirus pandemic. He's also been entertaining fans with his stories of his time cooking for the Royal Family.
Darren spoke with HELLO! Canada about launching this YouTube channel and how COVID-19 has affected his work and his cooking.
Plus, he shared a simple and delicious Mother's Day recipe as part of his latest video!
HELLO! Canada: How are you doing with the coronavirus quarantine and adjusting to the new normal?
Darren McGrady: Well, for me, Darren McGrady, I put on several chef hats. One is the Eating Royally Catering company in Dallas, which is absolutely closed down right now. We aren’t allowed to do catering events right now because of the isolating and things like that. So, from the Eating Royally side, we are pretty much nonexistent.
I also have my royal chef side, which I do events around the country, sort of corporate events and charity events, and that side obviously is impacted because you aren’t allowed to travel and do anything like that, and all corporate events have been moved to later in the year.
But what I decided to do while I was self-isolating with my family at home, is to spend more time on social media, as most people are. And being at home, one of the things that keeps me sane is cooking. I just love cooking.
And I started cooking and posting what I’m cooking at night and asking friends what they've been cooking at night to post pictures, and it brought us a sort of a social gathering.
And I thought, "Well, I need to do some video," so I started a YouTube channel, and then I started doing a few royal videos. I sort of mix-and-match sometimes, so I'll do a royal video, what I cooked for the Royal Family, maybe one of the Queen's favourites. And the next time is cooking through the COVID-19, dishes that I've been to the store today and I've found these ingredients, and "Here's something that I'm going to cook tonight and you could probably cook as well."
Do you have a favourite part of doing the videos?
It's not so much being on camera. Even now, I sort of get nervous being on camera and I appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today Show and all of these other things, but I still get a little nervous on camera.
For me, it's about sharing food. Food connects us all and brings us all together. And one of the things I enjoy the most about sharing the recipe is that when "Here's a recipe that I'm cooking tonight that reminds me of my mother" and when my sister and I would cook and things.
For me, to share a stew and dumplings dish or something that my grandmother would cook that has those emotions with it. Food brings us together and food has not just taste memories, where we taste it and remember the taste, but also where we were, too.
For me, the smell of a beef stew bubbling away on the stove, I automatically think of being a little 10-year-old boy and going to my grandmother's for lunch during school and her serving me this. So, food connects people and certainly the Cooking Through COVID-19 does that.
Tell us about your Mother's Day recipe on YouTube.
For Mother's Day, we're doing an asparagus frittata and a cantaloupe, mint, ginger and crispy prosciutto salad. Just something easy. Because as a caterer, I know that Mother's Day is one of the biggest days of the year for everyone getting together and taking mom out for lunch.
In England, Mother's Day is earlier in the year, and my mother's over there, but we celebrate the American Mother's Day, and we do it virtually. We have a call on Mother's Day and we sort of visit, and that got me thinking about Mother's Day and young kids at home and celebrating Mother's Day and eating and maybe the kids can cook something for her. "Why don't I do a simple dish that the kids can prepare for mom for Mother's Day and sit down together?"
And then I got thinking, "Well, I've done a virtual Mother's Day with my mom for the last 20 years." We sort of FaceTime and Skype, and what if people at home baked my frittata and doubled the recipe, and took one to mom's and granny's, and dropped it on the porch with the salad, knocked on the door, and ran away then texted them and said, "Don't start yet, wait until we get home. And then we'll FaceTime and all sit together, and then we don't need to go to a restaurant, we're having a virtual Mother's Day. You're eating what we’re eating and it was cooked with love."
Just imagine mom's face when she opens the door and she sees that you've put brunch there for her and you're thinking of her.
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It's a really lovely idea. Was there a reason why you picked the asparagus frittata?
I wanted something that's sort of light and that's easy to make. It's an egg dish and it's sort of like a Christmas quiche, and it's not too heavy. And they're moms: Moms don't like to go too crazy, although, I do say in the video, if you want to add some Canadian bacon, put some prosciutto in the mix, you can do. You can put some sausage in if you want and make it heavier, but it's just nice and light and it's a great brunch, and it's got a lovely salad to go with it.
And they're the sort of ingredients that you can pick up from the store this week and then prepare everything the night before. Then on Sunday morning you can get up and put this together while mom's in bed. And then either enjoy Mother's Day with this or just pop it over there [to her place].
The idea is that you make the frittata and then make the salad while it's in the oven, and in just an hour, you've got this delicious brunch that tells mom "I love you."
The Queen enjoys a meal with Prince Philip and Princess Anne and Prince Charles in the 1969 BBC documentary "Royal Family." Photo: © Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Does cooking the frittata bring back any memories of working in the royal kitchens on Mother’s Day?
When I was at Buckingham Palace, the Queen didn't really celebrate Mother’s Day. She would go off to Windsor for the weekend, but often she would have eggs for breakfast.
And with Princess Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry liked to cook so something like a frittata was an easy dish that they could make for the princess.
One of the things I remember most about being at Kensington is that the princess would give her team the Sunday, Mother's Day, off to go home and be with their families. And it was really thoughtful of her.
On the weekends, each year for Mother’s Day, she would usually have the boys and they would just be there together and eat together and the princess would help the boys. Of course when I was there, the boys were still young so it wasn’t like they could prepare a three-, four-course meal. But, it was that special time for the princess and being with her boys on Mother's Day.
It was as much about she wanted us to spend time with our families as she wanted to be alone with her two boys on Mother’s Day, and it meant so much to her for the three of them just to eat together and be together.
Darren McGrady poses in the kitchen at the Hilton Hotel on Richmond St. West in Toronto in August 2007. Photo: © Aaron Lynett/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Were you involved in the preparation of any of the Mother’s Day meals?
I used to leave food for them, but often they would all go in the kitchen together and spend time together and get meals throughout the day.
What can we look forward to on the YouTube channel?
Coming up on the channel, for me it's frustrating because I'll get an idea and go into the kitchen and start creating it right away. And I want to share it with people so they can enjoy it and try it, but the videos take a lot longer, a lot of production. I just want to put one out every 20 minutes and say "try this, try this, try this," but we have a long list set up.
We've got some more Cooking Through COVID, with dishes and ingredients you can still find. There's still chicken in the store, and things like that. There's still salmon in the store. We've got a really nice roast chicken for people who don't want to go to the big chains and fast food places for chicken. We've got one of those coming up. We've got a delicious shrimp and grits coming up next week.
And the royal stories, too. I'm still sharing stories of royal favourites. One of my favourites coming up in a few weeks which you really have to watch is one of the royal corgis. There has never been a video, I don't think, on what the corgis actually eat.
Her Majesty with her beloved dogs at Sandringham in the 1960's. Photo: © Anwar Hussein/WireImage
So, I'm going to be in the kitchen and cooking and preparing the food. One of the things that really, really shocked me when I got a job as the Queen's chef was that I wasn't straight away preparing banquets for kings, queens and presidents. I was actually chopping beef, liver and chicken for the Queen's corgis. I later learned that was one of the most important meals of the day when it came to the Queen. So, I'll be chopping up all the Queen's dog food and sharing what she used to feed her 12 corgis on.
And I'll be sharing stories of my 11 years of interacting with those royal corgis. Some days you wanted to pet them and some days you wanted to lift one up and put in the oven. [Laughs] I’m a dog lover and we have a really nice surprise at the end [of the video]. So the dog one, the corgi one, is going to be a fabulous one.
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