Carolyn Robb, co-founder of The Royal Touch, was formerly Executive Chef to TRH Prince Charles and Princess Diana for eleven years and also served other members of the Royal Family.
Born and raised in South Africa, Carolyn began cooking at an early age. Inspired by her mother, she was determined that one day she’d be baking and cooking for royalty.
After studying languages at University, Carolyn travelled to Switzerland to spend a winter season working in a ski resort hotel. She attended the Tante Marie School of cookery in Surrey, and after gaining her diploma in Cordon Bleu Cookery, with distinction, she moved to Kensington Palace, where she began work as chef to TRH The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Two years later, in the summer of 1989, Carolyn was offered the position of chef to TRH The Prince and Princes of Wales.
Photo Credit: The Royal Touch
After 13 years in the Royal Household, Carolyn left and moved to Dubai to work as Project Director for a newly established company, Chef’s Larder. Her remit included the opening of several delicatessens, offering an exclusive range of imported products never previously seen in Dubai, from all over the world. She also established and implemented consultancy and training programs in top hotels, including the Burj al Arab and Al Maha Desert Resort. Carolyn had regular radio and television slots and wrote for several local publications. After 15 months with Chef’s Larder, Carolyn took up the full time position of food editor for ‘Time Out’, which published magazines for both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In 2002, Carolyn established her own company upon her return to the UK, providing catering and event management to a diverse and high profile client base, as well as product development expertise to several small organic food companies and consultancy to hotel groups and restaurants. After a two year stint in California in 2005 and 2006, Carolyn returned to the UK again.
Carolyn resides in Wallingford, a historic 900 year old town, on the river Thames, about 10 miles south of Oxford. She is is constantly expanding her client base, catering to customers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Haute Living’s Dr. Nasrine Abushakra sat down with Carolyn Robb to discuss her culinary career as The Personal Chef to Prince Charles & Princess Diana, Prince William & Prince Harry for over a decade, as well as her best-selling cookbook, The Royal Touch: Simply Stunning Home Cooking From A Royal Chef.
Tell me about your personal experience of networking and reaching out with your projects here in the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates.
I spent a wonderfully enlightening and enjoyable two years working in Dubai. The first year was spent working on several projects with the Albwardy group – (Spinneys and Chefs Larder.) Consulting with some wonderful hotels, Al Maha in particular, was a brilliant experience. My second year was spent working with Time Out Dubai and Abu Dhabi, reviewing many, many restaurants. I loved every minute of this and learnt so much about cuisines that were new and exciting to me.
What inspired you to publish your book?
I always wanted to collaborate on a cookbook with my mother, who was a wonderful cook and was my inspiration to become a chef. Unfortunately we didn’t ever write a book together, but I still wanted to write a book in her memory and one that would inspire my 2 young daughters to follow their dreams, in the same way that my parents encouraged and supported me to aspire to the things I dreamed of doing and achieving.
For those not familiar with your work, what region is your culinary style modeled after?
I would say that my food is ‘Modern British’ but with threads of many different cuisines running through it! I incorporate ideas and influences from South Africa, France, Italy, Dubai and California into my recipes. I loved living, working and exploring and experiencing the cuisines and ingredients of all these countries.
What has been your impression of the local food scene over the years here in the Middle East?
I lived in Dubai for 2 years (2000 – 2002). I loved the diversity of cuisines available and the incredible restaurant locations and decor. I spent a year as the food editor for Time Out Dubai and Time Out Abu Dhabi and I was fortunate to dine in so many wonderful restaurants during this time. My favorite ‘new discovery’ whilst in Dubai was Lebanese food; I had previously not experienced the truly authentic, freshness and vibrance of this wonderful cuisine! It was certainly my favorite food whilst I was living there; I frequently visited wonderful Lebanese bakeries for the likes of Zatar bread, baklava and other local specialities.
When you manage to find a little time to step away from your work, what are some of your favorite spots to dine or socialize?
As I mentioned previously it is some years since I lived and worked in Dubai. However, when I was there I loved meeting friends for a coffee or light lunch at the ‘Lime Tree Cafe’ – which was then in Sheik Zayed road. Afternoon tea was just incredible at the ‘Royal Mirage’ hotel – I was so impressed by the beautiful setting of the hotel and the clever, yet subtle local twists on such a traditional British institution. The most indulgent Friday brunch that I experienced had to be at the top of the Burj al Arab-memories of that will stay with me forever! For dinner it’s difficult to specify my favourite location asthere were so very many amazing restaurants. A couple that stick in my mind are ”The Pyramid’ restaurant at the Wafi Centre, ‘Verre'(Gordon Ramsay’s first restaurant outside the UK) in the Hilton Hotel in bur Dubai, but there were so many others too – I especially loved to be able to dine outside.
If you had not pursued a culinary career, what do you think you would have been?
I have never thought about that as from such a young age I have always wanted to be a chef! However, I am also fitness instructor and would have loved to spend more time studying health and fitness in much more depth – it is a good antidote to the effects of cooking and eating all that good food!
What three ingredients you MUST have in your kitchen?
Really good quality olive oil, a big block of Parmigano Reggiano cheese and great couverture chocolate.
Are you launching any new projects (TV show, cookbook, products etc.) in the near future?
I have created a brand called ‘The Royal Touch’ which is taking me in many new and exciting directions! I am working on the concept for a food/travel TV show and am also in the early stages of creating my second cookbook, focusing on beautiful yet simple baking. I have a cafe in Hong Kong and there are plans to expand this. I am working with a company in South Korea on a great range of cookware and have many other exciting projects in the pipline – some of which I hope may bring me back to Dubai before too long!