When I read my fabulous friend's interview with Paul Brown, the former Executive Chef to the King of Bahrain on her blog She Goes, I was so fascinated by the idea of being the chef for a Royal that I left this comment:
"What an interesting job! Id love to see what it is like behind the scenes of a royal kitchen so Id probably talk the poor mans ear off "
Which led my wonderful friend to asking me whether I'd like to talk to Paul Brown myself and find out a bit more about working for a Royal and not just any Royal but a Middle Eastern Royal! Now the Executive Chef at Stamford Grand in Glenelg, Brown created one of the signature desserts featured in every Sir Stamford, the Chocolate Implosion and later Mr NQN and I got to try one of those too.
So, how did you arrive to be the Senior Executive Chef for the King of Bahrain?
The general manager of palaces was asked by his majesty to find a new Exec Chef. He wanted an Australian Executive Chef because his son the Crown Prince had one and he was very impressed by the way he turned the kitchen around. He asked who are the up and coming chefs in Australia and my name was dropped into the hat.
Was it a long process?
It was a very long process. It took months and months. First of all were the interviews and everything was agreed and then we were asked to come over. I resigned my position and we were waiting around and one month goes by, two months goes by and three months goes by and we're wondering What's going on?. I thought this isn't going to go through so I actually accepted another job back in Sydney. So I was back in Sydney and I got a lease on a house and then they rang me up and said OK we need you tomorrow.
So I said no problems at all, chucked in the job and you have to lose 3 months of rent on the lease. They said you're leaving on these flights and we pick up our tickets from Gulf Air because His Majesty owns Gulf Air and they said No that flight left yesterday. We changed over our first class tickets to bummy economy just to get over there!
Then we meet the General Manager of Palaces and he said Welcome to Bahrain, Our Majesty is about to go away on a Summer vacation. We'll be back in contact soon. A month went by and we were staying at the Sheraton. They said everything is looked after you just have to pay for alcohol. One month went by with no contact from anybody at all. My wife was starting to stress and we're wondering Do we have to pay for this hotel room?. Our hotel bill was $25-$30,000 but it was a short time later that I got the call saying OK we need to sort out your medicals and we'll send a driver around.
Obviously there had to be background checks. Do they probe deep?
Yes they probe very deep, a lot deeper than you'd think they'd probe. They obviously look into the places you've worked for and family background.
Did you travel with the king?
The majority of the time we didn't travel with the king. The kitchen had its own planes so we would travel separately so we'd try to be a day in advance at least or at least half a day in advance. We'd try and get to the destination and have everything ready for when he arrives. We would have multiple teams running to try and always be one step ahead of him. We had lots of planes we could use from the kitchen point of view.
_Tell me about the King. _
I'll give you an example, one of the first times I ever saw the King. Even at the palace they shut down the palace if he goes for a walk for security reasons and when you're driving around you can't go places. So one day I'm driving and security blocks off the area and he comes through and he has a pair of stubbie shorts and a tshirt. He's just like a normal guy. He's just a normal person at the end of the day.
![Club des chef des chef trip to prague. partners attended.a picture of myself and Christine (https://images.notquitenigella.com/images/cooking-for-kings-princes-michael-jackson-a-chocolate-implosion/prague-3-382.jpg)
Paul Brown with his wife Christine on a Club Des Chef Des Chefs trip to Prague
_What does he like to eat? _
When I first got here they said Chef we want to do more Western food. He has travelled all over Europe and he wants that style of food in the palace. The palace had more Arabic food. I started doing a traditional six course degustation meal for him and he absolutely loved it. The funny thing about it is that they all called it diet food. It was six plates of food but all small portions. Not the huge volumes of food they're used to. The rest of his entourage don't want this sort of diet food they want their big buffet food and they want their service food. They'd call it diet food because it's not covering the full plate.
When they do the service food you would have the buffet and say he wanted whatever dish it was, they would also all get served the same dish and they'll come around with a service platter. But they'd have 10-15 portion on the platter because you just can't go there with one portion and offer one portion as it's rude. To Arabs, it's how they show wealth. It's not about owning a car or a house, they all have that-he has somewhere around fifty palaces. They show their wealth to their guests through food.
The opulence of the food is how they show it?
Exactly. The all want to outdo each other.
Is there a Queen?"
He has four wives and there was the first one which you would regard as the queen and they all have their own palace. Hers is a mammoth palace. She has 500 staff there and it would put Buckingham Palace to shame. It's the size of a normal suburb.
Did you meet the wives?
Yes although they don't make a big thing about women there. I met them all but you never ever talk to women, when there are women guests in the room you never look at the women. You never make eye contact.
I suppose if they're royals it's even more off limits...
Yes it's like you're looking at their women.
Tell me about the Club des Chef des Chef group.
I belong to a club called the Chef des Chef. I was the first Australian to belong to this club. It's the most exclusive chef club in the world. You have to be the Executive Chef to the King or a head of state for a country. There are twenty two or twenty four in the group and you get invited by a different head of state to visit the country and they show you around and you'd be their guest.
Is that how you met Prince Albert?
Yes, he had us for 14 days. He paid for the whole trip and we went through France: Paris, South of France to all the best restaurants and then to Monaco and we had dinner with Prince Albert and a big fireworks display. He had Alain Ducasse come out from America to cook for us all. I think it cost about E30,000 per person.
Meeting all the chefs for all the kings around the world is amazing experience in itself-all the stories you'd hear. Obviously a lot of it you can't discuss and that's why it was good to talk to all of these people because they are in the same boat. We went to the original restaurant where it all started which is Paul Bocuse's restaurant in Lyon. Paul Bocuse cooked for us which was a big highlight and he was very humbled to cook for us as he did the first one when the first French President's chef and another travelling Executive Chef came and then they started the club from there. It's the best club you could ever belong to.
Do you have to pass another test to get in?
No there's no test you just have to show the credentials. There was a lot of checking to make sure you are who they say you are.
What other royals have you met or heads of state?
I've met many through either work or people coming to stay there. Obviously every single King there practically is came to Bahrain at the time. The Emir or Jordan, Emir of Kuwait, King of Spain, King of Greece, King of Swaziland. Over 35 Prime Ministers and about 30 Princes including the British Royal Family Harry, William, Charles, Camilla, Andrew, Phillip as well as Tony Blair and F1 heads from Bernie Ecclestone down.
Michael Jackson stayed with us for three months. After everything went upsa daisy after his courtcase he came to Bahrain.
Was it at the invitation of the King?
It was at an invitation of one of his sons who was into music and was a good friend of his. He came for lunches and stuff like that. He ended up getting kicked out of the country. He was a very naughty boy and decided he wanted to go walking around the shops and wear a female abaya so no-one would recognise him
Ahh a bit offensive yes...
Yes very, very. He was politely told to piss off.
What did he eat? He doesn't look like he ate much
Whatever we gave him he ate but he would mainly have burgers and at 3 o' clock in the morning and strange times like that with the kids. Everyone would eat at strange times.
Who would you consider to be a down to earth royal? Is there such a thing?
Surprisingly all the people that I thought are not down to earth are the most. To be honest I hated Prince Charles before I met him. I thought he was a pompous ass but in our palace there are about 5,500 staff that work at the palaces from gardeners to maintenance. It's pretty much all Indian staff there, so I'm one of the few white people there so people automatically acknowledge you by nodding or a handshake and nobody ever does anything for any of the Indians. It's like they don't exist. But Prince Charles would be talking to the guy that's opening up the door and asking him about his family and he seemed to care and seemed quite genuine.
The Prince of Monaco, he seemed very down to earth. He's got an Australian girlfriend and they were making jokes at this function and I was like Oh my god they're just like normal people at the end of the day.When you see everyone behind closed doors they're normal people. There's a face they put on in front of it.
Considering you've seen what it's like, would you want to be a royal?
A Middle Eastern royal yes I could do that quite easily. Strange thing was I met a lot of billionaires and you'd see these people. Do they look happy? No. I would see some of my Indian servants and they were on $50 a month and they were some of the happiest people I've ever met.
So money doesn't buy happiness?
I don't believe it buys happiness but if you're a King yes it does because all everyone is doing 24/7 is trying to make your day more exciting and more happy so you have a sense of happiness. But who is your true friend? Everything revolves around money. It would be very hard to know who was your true friend. These people who have nothing, they know exactly who are their true friends.
What would happen if you insulted a royal?
(laughs) I don't think those people exist , I don't think you'd last too long. There were people that spoke out against the royal family and they're all people that are in gaol. It's supposed to be a democratic country but the Prime Minister is the King's uncle and they've only had him as Prime Minister. You could try and run against him if you wanted to but when he took over as ruler he forgave every loan in the country so if anyone had a house loan or anything he forgave that no matter who you were. His idea was that everyone that was a Bahraini had a house.
Could he come over to Australia perhaps please?
(laughs) that would be nice.
Alain Ducasse (flown in to cook by Prince Albert) with the Club Des Chef Des Chefs. Photo taken in front of the Hotel Des Paris in Monaco.
_What is Bahrain like for someone that is not from Bahrain? _
When I first went to Bahrain, I wondered what the hell Bahrain was like and also I'm taking my new wife there as well. So we get the Lonely Planet guide to what Bahrain is like and so you read these books and they say its a Muslim world so you read that you've got to be fully covered up and females have to walk behind the males. Our first week there was like that but by the time we left there we left Australia.
Did your wife wear the veil?
She didn't but every part of her was covered up apart from the veil .You could wear anything you would in Australia within reason obviously. Walking into a mall there is exactly the same as walking into a mall in Australia.
What would surprise us about Bahrain?
I felt safer in Bahrain than I did Australia. They don't treat stealing lightly. There were a couple of kids that were caught stealing and they got life imprisonment from breaking into someone's house. You don't see theft anywhere, that doesn't really happen.
It's similar to Dubai?
Yes Bahrain is even more Westernised than Dubai. You have bottleshops and nightclubs you have all these things. They don't have drive through bottle shops you have a building and you don't know what's in it but as an expat you get told here's a bottleshop and when you go in its a fully stocked bottle shop.
Did you live in the palace?
No We had our own place, a three storey villa. It was not too far to work and I thoroughly enjoyed driving my Porsche to work every day.
You were the chef there for five years. Why did you stop working there?
I thought that I'd be there for life but my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I guess it's a time in your life when you work out what's really important and family is more important than anything. Adelaide is a great place to live, it was where I was born and bred.
_Would you want to work for another royal? _
Of course. I think working for a Middle Eastern royal is completely different than working for another royal. It's like the Queen of England. I told Mark her Executive Chef there about our snacks buffet and I told him that there was enough food out there for a hotel for five hundred and this is buffet for two people.
For the Queen of England, maybe for their snacks buffet they'd have three cakes there and the Queen would have a piece of cake out of one of the cakes. The next day when they had the snacks buffet the Queen had said Where is the cake from yesterday? Where has it gone? Don't throw it in the bin and waste it.
How frugal that's quite charming!
It's a different sort of world. There's no question about money in the Middle East whereas in England there's the worry about waste.
And in Bahrain if you served the cake from yesterday you'd probably be..
If I served the same cake from yesterday I'd be on the first plane out!
We try Paul's creation, the Chocolate Implosion which he had originally designed for the Sir Stamford in Adelaide. When the chairman of the Sir Stamford tried it, he declared (in a rather King like fashion) that it needed to be in every Sir Stamford Hotel all over the country.
Mr NQN and I share it one afternoon in the Dining Room of the Sir Stamford Circular Quay (it can be ordered in the Bar too). It is a large egg shaped shell of chocolate that is 2mm thick made out of Valrhona chocolate. Inside it is a light chocolate mousse and pears to form structural pillars. On top is a sheet of golf leaf and beside it is a little jugful of melted chocolate (at precisely the right temperature) which is then poured over it and the chocolate orb then melts to reveal the pillar of perfectly poached pears and the mousse. Decorum is the only thing preventing Mr NQN from licking the plate. We make plans to return on Valentines Day to share another one.
Sir Stamford Hotel
93 Macquarie St, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8274 5444