8 Holiday Party Tips From Royal Chef Darren McGrady

royal chef darren mcgradyPlease welcome Royal Chef Darren McGrady. He shares his kitchen tips and tricks with us in this special guest post series. Darren was personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales and Princes’ William and Harry for fifteen years and has cooked for five U.S. Presidents. He is now a sought-after chef, author, owner of Eating Royally fine dining catering service and culinary consultant living in Dallas, Texas.


holiday entertainingI guess I am lucky being a chef when it comes to holiday entertaining. For me, it’s ‘just another meal’ because I know how to plan for the unexpected: dietary restrictions, guests arriving late, unexpected guests, etc. It’s the little things that can ‘throw a wrench in the works’ and if you have prepared for them, then entertaining is easy. Trust me, I’m a chef!

Here are a few things I do whether as a caterer or at home when entertaining. Most of it is pretty simple! If reading this offers just one tip you haven’t thought of, then it will have been worth reading. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

  • Make it sharp! My kitchen (even at home) is pretty equipped, and I always make sure I have one or two properly sharpened knives. It makes a huge difference when that prime rib of beef you spent a lot of money on and time cooking comes out the oven and your knife slices through the meat perfectly. Invest in a good cutting board too. I also love wood cutting boards. (Just be sure to regularly and correctly clean a wooden carving board to ensure meat and other food particles don’t get left in the grain.)
  • Cook it slow. I have a slow cooker in my home kitchen. I love to prepare a beans dish or a stew of some kind ahead of time and have it bubbling away waiting for guests to arrive. One thing to prepare off my mind!
  • Invest in a timer. It sounds embarrassing saying this, but I also have a timer in my home kitchen. In my commercial kitchen, I never use one. But with lots going on at home, and me with a gin and tonic and good company, one can soon lose track of time. A ‘beep-beep’ and “Excuse me a second while I take the ham out of the oven” can really make a difference…trust me!
  • Pressure cookers. Pressure cookers have been around for years and earn a constant space on my kitchen counter for the amount of times they have saved me. Pinto beans in 55 minutes while I fire up the grill and marinate and cook fajita steak is amazing. (Can you tell I currently live in Texas?)
  • Food now! Always have a selection of cheese in the refrigerator (with proper storage it will keep for the whole holiday season) and some crackers in the pantry. When unexpected guests turn up bearing gifts, it takes minutes to put together a cheese platter! I always have chips and dips in the pantry and some olives in the refrigerator too.
  • Scented candles. Place these in areas away from the food and try to buy a seasonal scented candle. Maybe pine to accentuate the tree. Light it as soon as you’re done cooking. The food smell dissipates almost instantly.
  • Don’t forget ambiance! Ambiance is a huge thing for me when entertaining. Light a log fire before your guests arrive. Choose some fun holiday music and arrange some flowers. Your guests will feel relaxed as soon as they walk through the door!
  • The final touch. Finally, in the old days, after a fabulous evening of wining and dining, I would send my family and friends on their way into the winter cool air with a glass of eggnog. Nowadays I serve a warm glass of turmeric, ginger and honey milk. Healthy and delicious!
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