When they learned Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was coming to dinner, two chefs on either side of the Atlantic were able to stand the heat in the kitchen and cook under pressure.
“They had somebody watching me cook but I just went on and did the job,” said Chris Elliott, head chef at Royal Portrush Golf Club on the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland.
Patrick Turcot, who served as executive chef at Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu golf resort on the scenic St. Lawrence River north of Quebec City had a similar experience.
“Of course I was nervous. There was a security check and the presence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” recalls Turcot, who was working in Edmonton at the time. “Even though there was no ‘royal taster,’ per se,” says Turcot. He remembers having to submit his proposed menu in advance to the Queen’s butler.
Elliott said, in his case, several potential menu items were sent ahead to Buckingham Palace weeks before the Queen arrived at Royal Portrush for a civic luncheon at the famed golf club that has twice been chosen to host the British Open.
“There were various menus sent off and she had the final say as to what she was going to have that day,” Elliott reveals. “She chose a local smoked salmon in a prawn and crayfish mousseline for starters. Then she was served a stuffed ballotine of chicken and asparagus for her main. Her lunch ended with a lemon berry posset. It was a light lemon mousse.”
Haute Cuisine or Comfort Food?
For Turcot, the Queen’s cuisine was more comfort than culinary.
“They wanted high tea in their suite and so I tried to make it very fancy, but the butler said the Queen and Prince Philip preferred plain old ‘Wonder Bread,’” Turcot said. The royals rented the two entire top floors and Turcot decided to personally arrange the tea treat in anticipation of the Queen’s arrival. He made his way to the kitchen of the quiet suite and began to set up. That’s when he noticed, out of the corner of eye, Prince Philip about 20 feet away.
“What are you doing here?” the royal butler asked Turcot, having spotted his near convergence with the prince. “You are not supposed to be in here!”
Turcot said the butler was kinder later when offered a small, anecdotal morsel that the royal couple was pleased with the food he’d prepared.
Meeting Her Majesty
Elliott’s experience was more formal but eventually familial.
“There are various protocols, and I was briefed ahead on all of them,” said Elliott, of his experience. “After the lunch to meet Her Majesty and I got to shake her hand because she extended hers to me.”
Elliott’s feedback came directly from the Monarch.
“She complimented me on the lunch she had. It was quite a feather in my cap.”
Both Elliott and Turcot admit they don’t often get direct feedback from the celebrities and notables they serve.
“We get various athletes and celebrities here and you just have to treat them all the same. They’re here for the hospitality,” said Elliott.
“Sometimes I watch the plates coming back in to see which ones are empty and see what they liked enough to finish,” Turcot admitted. He did get a little face time with world leader Bill Clinton when he cooked at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. “President Clinton was in for an environmental conference and he wanted simple, in-room dining. The FBI did a check on me and went over protocol and reminded me, when I met him, to call him ‘Mr. President.’”
Political Royalty in the manner of Hungry World Leaders
Fairmont’s Le Manoir Richelieu, a true castle on a cliff, hosted seven world leaders at one time during the 2018 G7 Summit. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, plus the leaders of France, Germany, the U.K., Germany and Japan added to the history of the 405 room hotel built 90 miles north of Quebec City in the 1920s. American President William Taft opened its golf course and now, with Casino de Charlevoix also on property, it was ironic that Trump, who used to be in the golf and casino business, checked in but didn’t have time to play.
“He seemed to have been surprised at the view, anyway, when he looked out and saw the first hole and how beautiful the landscape is,” said Caroline Oullette, Fairmont le Manoir Richelou’s director of sales and marketing. “The ‘family picture,’ as it is called, where all the attending world leaders are lined up, was taken from our golf course, which is a seven-minute electric cart-ride from the hotel up to the golf course. The first tee, on which they were photographed, has a drop-down view of the St Lawrence River which, at that point, is 30 kilometers wide. It seems as though the resort is a ship at sea.”
While the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu sits above a seaway, Royal Portrush Golf Club is situated above the sea near the top of the Emerald Isle. On a clear day even Scotland is in view from the very natural, tumbling links style course – that’s if golfers, some of whom are the greatest and most notable in the world, can take their eyes off of the flowering yellow gorse and golden dune grass.
When Secret Celebrities Check-In
Kerry Leitch and her husband Rod, both Royal Portrush members, cook breakfast for many tourists who come to play the top-rated, historic course. The couple operates the Craignamara Guest House, a bed-and-breakfast they built overlooking the Atlantic and Portrush area. The pastoral property looks like its’ been there for a hundred years but is cozy and contemporary. Kerry Leitch remembers getting a curious call one day concerning a celebrity.
“Someone phoned from the golf club telling us we had a famous American football star coming to stay with us. I checked the booking list and saw we only had a reservation for a ‘Pat Mahoney,’ she said.
The person on the phone laughed.
“It turned out to be Peyton Manning,” Leitch revealed, explaining that the Super Bowl star quarterback, indeed football royalty, registered under an assumed name similar to his own but with an Irish twist. “He was great. He was brilliant. Really lovely. We keep a photo he took with my son Ollie on display.”