CHIEF DERFLINGHER WITH FORMER President of ITALY Giorgio Napolitano. Photos courtesy of interviewees.
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This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Today I learned: When world leaders get together for official events in Europe, organizers often call the heads of an association called Euro hats take care of the food.
Founded by French chefs Paul Bocuse and Pierre Romeyer in 1986, the organization is committed to safeguarding European culinary traditions and quality cuisine, by bringing together friendly chefs from across the continent to compose its members.
The current president, Chief Enrico Derflingher, has fed the powerful for over 30 years. Born in Lecco, on the shores of famous Lake Como in northern Italy, Derflingher was catapulted into the kitchens of Buckingham Palace at just 26.
“After graduating in hospitality, I started working for luxury five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants,” Derflingher explains over the phone.
One day he saw an ad in the newspaper seeking candidates for a job in the restaurant business at the Italian Embassy in London. “I arrived in London and was told that I would start working as a chef in the kitchens of the royal household the next day. They haven’t told me before, ”he says. Twenty-four hours later, Derflingher was briefly subjected to the etiquette of a royal private chef, just in time to be picked up in a car sent by Buckingham Palace.
While working for the royal family, says Derflingher, he was responsible for overseeing the eight official kitchens at Buckingham Palace while following archaic rules and indulging in extravagant requests.
“We had to prepare menus not only for the events, but for each day of the week,” he explains. “I made the menu every Monday morning, so it was available to everyone, including Princess Diana. I was based at Kensington Palace, where Prince Charles [and Diana] lived. “
Long before food miles were a thing, royals insisted that most of their produce came from family estates. “Prince Charles was particularly fond of horticulture and paid great attention to what was served,” says Derflingher. “The butter came from their cows, the game from the hunting parties and the vegetables from the kitchen gardens.
According to Derflingher, the Queen shows restraint and formality in her food choices – no requests for pizza at 10 a.m. or extravagant snacks at midnight. The culinary life of the Palace was punctuated by meals programmed to the nearest millisecond. “At noon, they eat quickly, then there is tea at 5 o’clock. Shortly after, they have an aperitif, and at one minute before 8 pm the queen sits down at the table, ”he said.
When the queen gets up from the table, everyone has to get up, that’s the rule. If you’re not done when you hear his chair move, you quickly swallow your last bite and suck it up. Derflingher also confirms rumors that the Queen is enjoying a glass of whiskey, just like her mother. At the time, his favorite was Lagavulin Scotch, a Scottish malt whiskey that had the royal seal of approval until 2010. “They had special bottles for the royal family, ”explains Derflingher. The queen also loves gin and is said to have created his own drink with plants from the garden.
But not all members of the royal family are so measured in their culinary choices. “As children, Prince Harry and William often wanted pizza, burgers and spaghetti with meatballs,” says Derflingher. Other family members requested much more extravagant meals on a daily basis: strawberries in January, rhubarb ice cream – apparently favorite of the little ones – and chocolate fountains in the house. Richie rich.
“Speaking of personal taste, Prince Charles loved stuffed pasta like ravioli and lasagna, while Diana loved spaghetti,” says Derflingher. “The queen enjoyed the lamb or the beef with the salad.”
Another of the rules that all staff members had to follow was that they could not talk to members of the Royal Family unless they were told first. The Queen once asked Derflingher to come to the dining room, where she was dining with guests, to complete her risotto. “She asked me what I wanted as a thank you gift, and I asked for a copper saucepan with the emblem of Queen Victoria,” he says.
Members of the British Royal Family aren’t the only powerful people Chef Derflingher has nurtured – he’s also cooked at countless state dinners in Italy and at various embassies. In 1989, he was effectively poached by US President George HW Bush to work in the White House. “Charles always bragged about me and my cooking,” says Derflingher. “I once was cooking for an event in London with George HW Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev. President Bush wanted me at all costs, so I left for the White House.
Derflingher says the atmosphere in the United States was totally different from that of his UK workplace. “The royal formalities have been replaced by the informality of the president. He loved having Texan barbecues for 50 people in the backyard and was a maniac obsessed with safety, ”he says. For example, if the president had to go to the bathroom, he would write it down on a piece of paper. The message was then passed on to the security chief, who would check to see if the bathroom was safe.
“Of course, being in a powerful place like this, you feel like you’re part of history,” says Derflingher, explaining that he’s been asked to cook an impromptu dish for the president before while he was weighing whether or not to start the first Gulf War.
After running such high-stakes kitchens, Derflingher decided to open the Eden Hotel in Rome, where he worked for nine years, welcoming powerful clients like Margaret Thatcher and the son of his former employer, President George W Bush. After that, he traveled to the Palace Hotel in the Swiss Alpine resort of St. Moritz, and then to Japan, where he opened and managed 30 restaurants, including the Armani Restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza Tower.
Today he is working on an “ambitious project” in China, which will involve catering services and several Italian cooking schools.