In a paparazzi-fueled world where everyone is scrabbling to make a buck off of 15 minutes of fame, Darren McGrady is a refreshing exception. The Royal Chef, as he’s known, has turned 15 years of service to England’s royal family (the last four as Princess Diana’s personal chef) into a charitable effort of which the princess would be proud. McGrady has donated the advance and royalties of his cookbook/memoir, Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen (Thomas Nelson, 2007), to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. “Two of Princess Diana’s charitable goals were children and AIDS and I put the two together,” he shares.
McGrady and his family — wife Wendy and children Kelly, Lexie and Harry — moved to Plano 10 years ago, just after the death of Princess Diana. He serves as private chef for Dallas philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wyly, Jr., and devotes weekends to his family and charity work. DallasChild visited with the chef to learn how he blends dry wit with good-natured generosity to cook up a royally satisfying lifestyle.
How is your current work as a private chef different from your days in the royal employ? In my new position — I say “new,” but I have been here for 10 years — I still get to cook, and the Wylys are big philanthropists, which means big parties. I love catering those. It’s not quite a state banquet at Buckingham Palace — but not far off, I can tell you. What do I miss? I miss the pressure of preparing a banquet for kings, queens, presidents and heads of state. I miss chatting to princess Diana in the kitchen with William and Harry chasing around the kitchen. I pride myself in the knowledge that everything that leaves my kitchen is baked from scratch.
How do you think Princess Diana would have felt about you sharing her favorite recipes and family anecdotes in your book? What inspired me to write it was that I remembered the day after the Christie’s auction in New York, where the princess sold 79 of her dresses for charity. The next morning, she came into the kitchen in her dressing gown, all excited with a piece of paper and said, "Look how much money I have made for charity just by selling some of my old dresses." Well, I would like to meet her again one day and say, "Your Royal Highness, look how much money I have made for charity just by selling a few of my old recipes."
When the Princess’ butler wrote his kiss-and-tell book, William and Harry accused him of a cold and overt betrayal of their mother. I had a really nice letter from the boys after I had written my book. As I say in the preface, this is a book I want William and Harry to show their children and say, "This is what Granny Diana used to eat and was really like." I don’t think it is a huge security risk that I am giving away the Queen’s favorite chocolate cake recipe — though it might be a health risk with all that chocolate in it.
The royal family members are obviously raised to consider philanthropy from their youngest years. Have you gotten your own children involved in any community or philanthropic projects? The children come with me to as many charity events as possible. As the princess did with William and Harry, Wendy and I took our children to a battered women’s shelter in Oklahoma where I cooked Valentine’s dinner for the mums and kids.
What’s your take on Collin County as a place to raise a growing family? We love Collin County. Of course, we wish it wasn’t so far to the beach — you have to pack a lot of sandwiches to get there from Dallas. Coming from a little island, we are not used to driving far. The schools here are wonderful — much better than the UK. There’s so much for the kids to do, as well. I was soccer coach of Kelly’s team, the Dragonflies, for four seasons and had a blast. Texans are so friendly and welcoming, and there is such a community spirit.
Do you cook at home for your family? On my days/nights off, I get the choice from Wendy: "Do you want to cook dinner or entertain the three kids?" I cook better.
What does the McGrady family eat at home? Grilled chicken, pasta and broccoli at least once a week. Some weeks, we have a British Sunday roast. Some nights, especially soccer practice nights, it’s McDonald’s — though fortunately I am working those nights.
Where does your family like to eat out in Collin County? We were out one night eating and Lexie said, "Dad, I wish you could make brownies as good as these." We were at CiCi’s Pizza. Needless to say, we don’t go there anymore … like a knife through the heart! Pei Wei is one of our family favorites. The food is fresh and clean.
Is there a local restaurant where you enjoy spending a quiet evening with your wife? Wendy and I love the Shops at Legacy. A few drinks in Martini Park followed by dinner across the road at Nicola’s. It is fantastic northern Italian food, and Luciano is without doubt the best chef and most passionate about food in the area.
What about shopping — what local spots have you discovered for your work and family’s food needs? I like to shop at Market Street. It has everything for a one-stop shop.