Long Live the King!
It is almost an unbeatable feat to stay on the throne for 70 years. Being the queen of a country that has ruled countries afar like Great Britain is a long voyage. Britain’s longest crowned queen is also the world’s most traveled queen. One can imagine that her majesty had tasted all the delicacies of the world. But the reality is the opposite. These official visits are not open to taste adventures. The Queen visited Türkiye three times, in 1961, 1971 and 2008. I had the chance to talk with a couple of journalist friends and MPs who have attended the state banquets and according to the information given by those who accompanied the meals, the menus were modest and classic, avoiding elaborate creations. And of course, before such royal visits, there is always a communication carried out between both parties, to make sure that the list of foods to be avoided is well-understood, so there would be no unwanted surprises on the table.
The lists are adjusted both for safety and according to the taste preferences of the queen. At all state banquets outside abroad shellfish should be avoided because of safety reasons. Sometimes there are other requirements specific to the country visited. For example, when she visited Türkiye in 2008, the dishes were chosen not to have any sauces, especially tinted red with tomato paste, which naturally excludes most of the Turkish dishes. It is understandable as the queen always wears monochromatic, often brightly colored outfits, does not use printed fabrics, and if her hands tremble, the tiniest drop of sauce splashed on her clothes will stain both the outfit and the visit. Of course, such an accident is never desired in any protocol. It is also known that the dishes containing spices, especially hot ones like chili, onions and garlic should be avoided. It is known that the Queen prefers to eat locally sources seasonal food. When she visited Bursa, it was mid-May, just the season for artichokes and the first course was olive-oil braised artichoke bottoms. The sweet course was with Bursa chestnuts, the city is famed for its marron glacé. So, both seasonality and locality were met in the lunch menu given by the local governor of Bursa for the honor of her Majesty.
When there is a royal visit to a country, the media is flooded with news about the details, from the historic places visited to the banquet menus. Sometimes the menus are scrutinized by food writers, and even scholars. When I attended the Dublin Gastronomy Symposium, one of the papers presented was devoted to the first ever visit of Queen Elizbeth II to Ireland. The paper by Elaine Mahon, titled “Ireland on a Plate: Curating the 2011 State Banquet for Queen Elizabeth II” told the whole story of the feast, focusing on the gastro diplomacy aspect of the visit. Here the role of the chef is likened to an art curator. Mahon explains this as: “Chefs no longer only make food; they also ‘curate’ meals. Chosen for their keen eye for a particular style or a precise shade, it is their knowledge of their craft, their reputation, and their sheer ability to choose among countless objects which makes the creative process a creative activity in itself.”
“Writing from within the framework of ‘curate’ as a creative process, this article discusses how the state banquet for Queen Elizabeth II, hosted by Irish President Mary McAleese at Dublin Castle in May 2011, was carefully curated to represent Ireland’s diplomatic, cultural, and culinary identity.”
So true, the menu featured the best of the best of Irish ingredients, representing the gastronomic richness of the country. Luckily, I also had the chance to chat with Ross Lewis, the chef of the two Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant, who prepared the official banquet. The Irish chef also confirms that the most notable forbidden ingredient was spice, but as Irish cuisine is not heavy on spices, that was not even an issue in preparing the menu. Apparently, the queen did not like any sort of spices, but her husband, Prince Philip, and Queen Victoria, who reigned five thrones before her, loved Indian spicy curry dishes very much. In fact, Victoria favored lentil curry for lunch the most, of course prepared according to the recipe of her “munshi” Abdul Karim.
According to the information given by Darren McGrady, who has been the royal chef for 11 years, the queen loves strawberries, but refuses to eat them out of season. McGrady reports that the queen has a fairly classic, simple, and repetitive diet. A modest breakfast, scrambled eggs with butter, cereal with milk, of course always with Earl Gray tea. Lunch is light, fish or chicken. The classic English afternoon tea is never skipped. Scones with cream and jam, jam spread first on the scone, topped with the clotted cream, and then classic cucumber or salmon sandwiches, always the crusts cut off. No carbs in the evening, mostly protein. As hunting is a royal sport, game is much favored for special occasions, and delicacies like wild salmon caught in icy cold Scottish waters is another favorite. Guilty pleasures? Of course, even the Queen can have weaknesses to certain foods, in the case of Elizabeth II, it is chocolate. When it comes to chocolate cake, she was reportedly very happy to have her big slice.
So, how is the taste of the new King Charles, who was crowned king at the age of 73? For one thing, Charles has a very fine culinary taste and profound knowledge. He used to be interested in architecture once, but he later focused on food and on the local products and food culture of England. It is told that once, years and years ago, while navigating the Turkish territorial waters on a yacht trip in the Aegean with Camilla Parker Bowles, he liked the İmam Bayıldı prepared by a Turkish chef, but the black rice he requested could not be found in Türkiye. For his wedding with Camilla, the choice of the wedding cake showed his interest in the local tastes, he chose the boiled fruit cake made by a housewife named Etta Richardson, which he had tasted previously at a local market in Wales. He became an advocate for organic farming and created the Duchy Originals brand with exclusive products produced on farms he established on royal estates. He brought British cuisine and British chefs to the fore at every opportunity.
But the real authority on food is Camilla’s son, Tom Parker Bowles. A die-hard food writer, Tom immersed himself in gastronomy when he could have lived a very different life. He came to Istanbul many times, once we made a panel at a British Council event, on another visit, we toured in and out of hidden streets of Istanbul, together with our mutual friend food writer Bill Knott, and Cenk Sönmezsoy. His choice of selecting Cenk as a photographer was right on the spot, as Cenk is both a food artist and stylist with a sharp eye, and exquisite taste, that is displayed in his boot and blog Café Fernando. It was hard times for Istanbul, and tourism was in crisis in Türkiye, no foreign journalist dared to promote Türkiye, but he had no reservations. He wrote a laudatory article saying Istanbul has always overcome hard times, and Istanbul will endure these hard times. What can we say, the new throne promises a great future for the world of gastronomy. The Queen Is Dead; Long live the New King!