WINDHOEK, OCT. 31 – Carolyn Robb, born and raised in South Africa, began to cook as soon as she could firmly grip a wooden spoon in her tiny hand and was able to read enough words to decipher a recipe.
Inspired by her mother, a wonderful cook, she had her sights set on cooking for the Queen one day.
After studying languages at University, Robb travelled to Switzerland to spend a winter season working in a ski resort hotel. The experience of Swiss hospitality inspired her to seriously pursue a career in food and, after gaining her diploma in Cordon Bleu Cookery, with distinction from the Tante Marie School of Cookery in the UK, she moved to Kensington Palace where she began work as chef to TRH The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
Two years later, in the summer of 1989, Robb was offered the position of personal chef to TRH The Prince and Princes of Wales, where she cooked for Prince Charles, Princess Diana and their two sons William and Harry.
At present Robb is living in Wallingford, a historic 900-year-old town, on the river Thames, about 10 miles south of Oxford. She recently completed filming four episodes of the second series of the hit show Royal Recipes which is due to start broadcasting on ITV CHOICE on Monday, 5 November at 18:10 (and will run weekdays at the same time for two weeks), as part of the channel’s mini-Royal Festival running in November to celebrate Prince Charles 70th birthday.
We caught up with Carolyn to ask her about the Royals, her recipes and the show:
You must be delighted to see William and Harry all grown up and married. Did you watch Harry and Meghan’s wedding?
I am delighted to see them both happily married and with wonderful wives. I worked with CNN for both William and Harry’s weddings. I was in Windsor on the Friday and again very early on Saturday morning and, as soon as my segment was finished, I rushed home to watch the wedding with my two girls.
Can you share one or two happy memories from William’s and Harry’s childhood?
They both loved coming into the kitchen to bake cakes and cookies when they were little and it was always great fun. My happiest memory is of accompanying the family to the Scilly Isles, off Cornwall, for a wonderful summer holiday. It was a week of picnics, bicycle rides and exploring the island.
Wasn’t one of the cakes made for William and Kate’s wedding based on a cake you used to make for William when he was a boy?
William’s groom’s cake was a chocolate biscuit cake which my mother used to make for me and I in turn loved making it for the two young princes. William’s cake was made and gifted to him by McVities, the company that makes the biscuits used in the cake. It is similar to a South African ‘fridge cake’.
What was it like filming the second series of Royal Recipes? Any memorable/funny moments?
I always enjoy working with Spungold, the production company that makes the series. Filming with children (and animals!) always means that you should expect the unexpected! My daughters enjoyed having a second chance to appear in the series and, as always, our big ginger cat did his best to get in on the act. Every time there’s a camera around he’s there!
In episode two of the series you bake a loaf that’s a favourite of Prince Charles. Can you tell us what it is and can you share the recipe with us?
Soda bread was a great favourite and we always had a freshly baked loaf on hand to use for sandwiches and for toast to serve with the starter at dinner. It is very quick and easy to make and Prince Charles loved it with lots of fresh herbs in it. (See recipe below).
In episode seven, you talk about and cook the meal you served Prince Charles when he was recovering from a sporting injury. Can you tell us a bit more about what the injury was, when it happened and what you made for the Prince?
Prince Charles fell off his horse while playing polo and had to have a plate put into his right arm, which was broken. One of the dishes that I cooked for him whilst he was in hospital was a poached egg on some crushed new potatoes with fresh herbs and a parmesan sauce. He even took the time to write a note to me with his left hand telling me how much he had enjoyed the dish.
In the final episode of the series, you recall a very special children’s tea party and then make a royal childhood favourite. Again – can you give us some background to your recollections and reveal what it is you make.
The little mouse cupcakes that I make have a special association for me as they are what I made for William and Harry the first time that I cooked for them. I was chef to THR the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester at the time and they came to have afternoon tea with the Gloucester’s two daughters.
Any top tips for adding that royal touch to a dinner party menu?
Keep the menu simple, use locally grown seasonal fresh produce and use plenty of fresh herbs; they add wonderful colour, flavour and aroma to a dish.
Why do you believe that baking shows such as The Great British Bake Off have become so popular in recent years?
I think they are aspirational, easy viewing and who doesn’t like cake!
What are the current baking trends – what’s hot and what’s not?
I think the main trend in baking is cutting down considerably on the sugar content of recipes. There are fewer traditional, formally iced wedding cakes with sugar flowers and many more simple sponge cakes with fresh flowers. In general, I think cakes have less topping and filling and the trend is towards ‘naked cakes’ where there is just a scraping of icing to allow the cake itself to shine through.
What are three ingredients we’d always find in your kitchen?
Good quality cooking chocolate, a selection of oils (olive, nut, avocado, coconut etc.) and parmigiano reggiano (parmesan).
You have a fabulous book out called The Royal Touch: Simply Stunning Home Cooking from a Former Royal Chef. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It is a collection of 100 of my favourite recipes taken from my time growing up in South Africa and cooking with my mother, my time as a royal chef, foods I have discovered on my travels and the food that I cook for my daughters now. The recipes are all simple and I encourage substitutions if the reader doesn’t have every ingredient listed in a recipe.
Any plans to come visit us in South Africa soon?
I would love to, especially as one of my brothers, and other family, still lives there, but sadly I don’t have any plans to visit SA in the near future.
What are you working on right now and what are your future plans?
I have another book in the planning stage and am working on my own designs for beautiful tableware (crockery and linen) and kitchenware too.
Carolyn Robb’s Soda Bread Recipe
Of all the breads this is my favourite (and Prince Charles loves it too). It is simple, wholesome and quick to make. The only thing to be careful of is over-mixing the dough. Unlike other breads which require kneading to make them lighter this requires as little handling a possible for a light texture. Don’t be alarmed if, a few hours after baking, you notice that any pine nuts or sunflower seeds in the bread have turned bright green! This is caused by a reaction between the anti-oxidants in the seeds and the bicarbonate of soda and it is nothing to worry about.
Makes one round loaf, approximately 23cm (9 inches) in diameter
You will need one flat baking sheet, at least 23cm wide
• 225g (8oz) malted granary flour
• 225g (8oz) plain flour
• 10ml (2 teaspoons) bicarbonate of soda
• 5ml (1 teaspoon) salt
• 30g (1oz) butter at room temperature (and a little extra butter for greasing the baking sheet)
• 250ml (9 fl oz) milk
• 250ml (9 fl oz) plain yoghurt
• 25ml (2 tablespoons) malt extract
• Seeds to sprinkle on top (I use sesame seeds and linseed)
Pre heat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Grease the baking sheet with some butter.
Sift the plain flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the largest mixing bowl that you have. Add the malted granary flour and mix it in. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients, using the fingertips. Whisk together the milk, yoghurt and malt extract.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture.
Now you need to work as quickly and lightly as possible.
With a round bladed knife work the liquid into the flour and then with the hands blend the ingredients together. As soon as you have a dough that is soft (and still sticky) tip it onto a lightly floured surface. Shape the dough into a round of about 20cm (8inch) diameter and about 3-4cm (1 ¼ -1 ½ inches) thick, without actually kneading it. The less it is handled the lighter the bread will be.
Lift the bread onto the baking sheet, re-shaping if necessary. Cut a deep cross in the top and sprinkle with seeds.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the bread is golden. To check if it is cooked; tap it on the bottom and it will sound hollow when ready.
Cool on a wire rack. For a crisp crust leave the bread uncovered. For a soft crust wrap the bread in a slightly damp tea-towel.
This is best served very fresh from the oven, while it is still warm. Traditionally it is broken into quarters and then sliced.
Add a handful of chopped fresh herbs of your choice; parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary and sage all work well.
For a sweet version add a handful of chopped plump dried figs or dates and a few pecans. Sprinkle the top with a little cinnamon sugar instead of seeds. – firstname.lastname@example.org