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Royal Chef Showdown

Princess Di's personal chef helps Texas Renaissance Festival up its food game

Princess Di's chef helps Texas Renaissance Festival up its food game

News_The Woodlands Wine and Food Week June 2012 Darren McGrady The Royal Chef
For 15 years, Darren McGrady was personal chef to Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, William, Harry and the gang at the palace in London. Darren McGrady, The Royal Chef/Facebook
Robin Mueller poses with Texas Renaissance Festival king after winning food contest
Robin Meuller received a prize of $10,000 in the Royal Chef Showdown, a contest to find the next big thing for the Texas Renaissance Festival. Photo by Steven David
Robin Mueller Texas Renaissance Festival winning food contest entry King's Bierock
The judges unanimously selected Robin Mueller's King Bierock in the Royal Chef Showdown. Photo by Steven David
Texas Renaissance Festival king and queen
The Texas Renaissance Festival continues on weekends through November 26. Photo courtesy of Texas Renaissance Festival
News_Princess Di dinner_Darren McGrady
Darren McCrady now lives in Dallas, where he owns a catering company. Darren McGrady Photo by Gary Fountain
News_The Woodlands Wine and Food Week June 2012 Darren McGrady The Royal Chef
Robin Mueller poses with Texas Renaissance Festival king after winning food contest
Robin Mueller Texas Renaissance Festival winning food contest entry King's Bierock
Texas Renaissance Festival king and queen
News_Princess Di dinner_Darren McGrady

For 15 years, Darren McGrady was personal chef to Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, William, Harry and the gang at the palace in London. Now he owns a fine dining catering company called Eating Royally in Dallas. He will come to your house or office or event and prepare, literally, a dinner fit for king, or to be precise, a future king. His first cookbook, Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen, is now in its sixth printing.

Back in Merry Olde England, he was used to cooking the queen’s favorites, like Lobster Thermidor, Beef Wellington, and Halibut with Lobster Sauce. Last week, he was sitting next to me, judging a contest to find the next big thing for the Texas Renaissance Festival, where for decades fine dining meant you used a napkin after eating your smoked turkey leg.

That’s all changing. The largest Renaissance Festival in the U.S., running through November 26 in Todd Mission, is upping its food game.

Nine chefs created a special Renaissance-themed dish for the contest, with the winner getting $10,000 and a spot on the menu at next year’s festival.

During a break, I leaned over and asked McGrady, so what’s your favorite drive-through burger?

He gave me a look. “Sorry, I don’t eat fast food.” At least he didn’t add “peasant” to his wrinkled nose. “I will wait till I get home and have some nice cheese. When someone writes a cookbook called Eating Royally, a photo of me eating a Big Mac would just about destroy my reputation.”

Well, that makes us even, because my favorite restaurant is my car. Which one is going to give up first, McGrady or me?

About a half-million visitors attend the Texas Renaissance Festival each year, enjoying live entertainment, jousting clashes, amusement rides and games, a wide variety of fair-style foodie-goodies and shopping for unique arts and crafts.

I’ve been to the festival a bunch of times and never knew they had an after-hours club with theme Saturday nights at the campground site. It’s called TRF After Dark, for 21 and older, open from 8 pm  to 1 am “Creatures of the Night” is this Saturday. “Studio 54” is November 4. “Naughty is Nice Ball” is November 25.

You might want to circle November 11 for the “Gender Bender Ball,” where the party promises to “push the boundaries of gender identity as we twist traditional male and female roles.” Huzzah indeed. Who knew the king and queen were into this sort of thing? Although I’m not certain which one is the king.

Favorite royal

McGrady grew up in Nottinghamshire, near Sherwood Forest, so he’s used to all this m’lady medieval stuff. His mother was a chef at a local hotel. As a kid, he grew to love cooking, watching his mum play with different ingredients, creating new dishes.

McGrady didn’t say it, but it was obvious his favorite royal was Princess Diana. “She was an amazing, inspirational person with all of her charity work,”  he said.

McGrady spent 1994 to 1997 as Diana, William and Harry’s personal chef. “She would come into the kitchen and we would just talk. She would say things like, ‘You won’t believe what the queen just told me. I’ve got to call Fergie.’ She was so sweet. She got into eating healthy and worked out three times a week. I would help her keep on track. William and Harry preferred American-style food, like kids do.”

As close as they grew, McGrady always addressed her as ‘Your Royal Highness.’ Let’s not get too carried away with chumminess. After all, he was still the “help.” After Diana’s death, McGrady turned down a job offer from Prince Charles and moved to Dallas to start his catering business.

And the winner is.......

One by one, chefs presented their dishes, with names like Peg Leg Chicken, Jerk ‘N Bake, Queen’s Croquettes, Chicken and POW-ffles, Fried Pig Bites, Pirate’s Seafood Boil on a Stick, Bombay Pillows (how’d that get in there?) and Wicked Pig on a Stick. Most the contestants dressed in medieval or pirate costumes. A little freaky, but fun.

I noticed McGrady ripping apart the items and giving them a good long hard sniff. “You have to break it down into individual components,” he explained. The last person I saw smelling his food before eating was Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H.

The winner, by unanimous decision, was a dish called Bierock, created by professional cake decorator Robin Mueller. She concocted a “savory yeast roll with its roots going back to Germany and Eastern Europe. This is a modern, spicy version, filled with ground beef, onion and cabbage. It pairs perfectly with a schmear of spicy mustard and your favorite bier.” Think of a best kolache you’ve ever eaten, multiply it times two, and you’ve got Bierock.

Mueller has been a chef for 28 years in Round Rock. She is trained in the “Wilton Method of the sugar arts.” Hey, me too!

Mueller was presented with a giant gag check for 10 grand, signed by “Her Majesty’s Royal Chef.”