On March 1, about 70 supporters of the Santa Barbara Choral Society gathered for a Royal Tea with Chef Darren McGrady, who served as Royal Chef for Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana collectively for 15 years. He thoroughly delighted the guests with stories of tea service and other matters at the Royal residences.
After a reception at this elegant affair at the Main House of the Music Academy of the West, guests were seated for a formal tea service accompanied by sandwiches and sweets that were frequently served at the Royal residences during McGrady’s time of service.
While there were a significant number of gentlemen in the crowd, they were far outnumbered by the ladies, most in fine dresses, many with striking hats and fascinators festooned with flowers and feathers.
Board President Debra Stewart welcomed the guests and Artistic Director/Conductor JoAnne Wasserman thanked them for their support, explaining how critical funding is for the 69-year-old organization, which is run by a board who are themselves singers in the society.
Royal Tea Co-Chair Mary Dan Eades paid tribute to Honorary Chair Barbara Burger for her lifetime support of the arts and her valuable service on the Choral Society’s Advisory Board.
Chef McGrady began his talk by walking the guests through the three tiers of creations on each of their tables, prepared by Lorraine Lim Catering under his guidance. The three tea sandwiches served — smoked salmon, Coronation Chicken, and cucumber and cream cheese — were all popular with the Royal Family. The English scones served with jam and clotted cream were similar to those served to the Queen every day, wherever she was in the world. Though she would eat scones only when there was company, she insisted on having fresh ones baked each day. To ensure the scones were fresh each day, she mandated that the type alternate daily between plain and raisin, so that she knew that her corgis received fresh scones even when she did not partake of them herself.
Guests indulged in the Queen’s favorite cake, a decadent chocolate biscuit cake, as well as an equally rich chocolate birthday cake, whose recipe has been handed down from the era of Queen Victoria, and a caramel banana cake, which was Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s nursery favorite.
McGrady’s duties included cooking for the large formal events. He explained how there were typically five garden parties each year at Buckingham Palace, with about 6,000 guests at each. Standards of freshness were strict — every seven minutes tea sandwiches were replaced with a fresh batch that had not been tarnished by the seven minutes of exposure to fresh air.
He explained that English tea dated back to the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who initiated the concept to deal with her mid-afternoon hunger pangs. Afternoon tea later became the fashion in high society London, and eventually became a national tradition.
McGrady also shared some tea etiquette tidbits, like pouring the milk in the cup before the tea. This has a practical origin — tea used to be quite expensive and milk used to spoil because of the lack of refrigeration. By pouring the milk in first, one could see whether the milk had spoiled before pouring the precious tea. This order also served to lessen the risk of fine china cracking from the very hot temperature of the tea.
McGrady was full of fascinating information about life with the Royals and delivered his prepared remarks and answered questions with ease, charm, and wit. Those who were unable to attend can catch his next presentation at the Choral Society’s Spring Gala, “Rockwood Abbey” on May 20. The Downton Abbey-themed event will be held at the Rockwood Women’s Club.
The Santa Barbara Choral Society has more than 100 singers, with new members accepted annually by audition. Most are volunteers who are lead by a small core of professional singers. The society typically performs with its own orchestra, which is assembled for each production from the same body of musicians drawn upon by the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. The society’s final performance of the 2016-17 season is Brahms’ Ein Deutsches (German) Requiem on April 1 at the First Presbyterian Church.
Funds raised at The Tea support the performances of the Choral Society and its outreach and education programs. The society gives away tickets to its performances to many organizations serving low-income individuals including Domestic Violence Solutions, The Boys and Girls Club, Garden Court, and Vista Del Monte Retirement Home. The society also provides talented high school and college students with scholarships to perform with the society.
For more information about the Santa Barbara Choral Society, including info on the Rockwood Abbey event and the Brahms performances, go to sbchoral.org.