I REMEMBER my training days well at The Savoy in London, where my first ever job there was to cook breakfast. The chef in charge of breakfast was showing me how to make poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, how to cook the bacon so that it was crispy but not overcooked and how to remove the skins from the tomatoes before grilling them.
I never knew it was so complex and I was trying to take it all in! As luck would have it, the Queen Mother was celebrating her 80th birthday in the Lancaster Suite at The Savoy the night before.
The Queen Mother was born on August 4, 1900, and I remember her 80th birthday day in 1980 well, as it had been my brother Howard’s 21st birthday the day before, which I was unable to go to. She was on the way down for breakfast, I was told. To say that I was nervous is an understatement. It was my first time cooking breakfast and my first client is the Queen Mother… no pressure! On the menu, we had a dish of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a little cheese. I had been taught to shred up the salmon and add it at the end into the scrambled eggs. I didn’t like this as it cooked the salmon, but I did as I was told.
The Queen Mother’s order came in and on it was scrambled eggs, along with poached eggs and also an English breakfast with black pudding. I did not want to mess it up. Staying at the hotel at the same time was the comedian Dick Emery. He was on TV a lot in the 70 ́s in a show that involved Emery dressing up as various characters, “a flamboyant cast of comic grotesques”. These included the buck-toothed Church of England vicar, a sex-starved man-eating spinster called Hetty and Clarence, an outrageously camp man who had the catchphrase “Hello Honky Tonks”. Other roles were many but also included a busty, peroxide blonde whose catchphrase, “Ooh, you are awful… but I like you!”
He was a hilarious character and I was a fan. He came into the kitchen to ask what the Queen Mother was having for breakfast and I spoke with him at the kitchen’s pass.
“Anything she has, I deserve,” he said in a deep, camp, voice. So now double pressure and I was thinking that if I screw it up, I will be famous for being a chef disaster and not for being a great chef! I sent out the smoked salmon to the Queen Mother, but I forgot to shred it up and add it into the eggs, I just put the scrambled eggs on the toast and topped it with a generous slice of smoked salmon. I then seasoned it with black pepper. My sous chef came over and tore into me. I felt useless and that I had let everyone down. I was really upset with myself. The next day I was told that Frank Sinatra might arrive in time for breakfast, so be ready.