Chef Darren McGrady has cooked for queens and princesses. For 15 years, he held court in the kitchen of Buckingham Palace during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and served as Princess Diana’s personal chef. Now, he’s hawking fish and chips out of a Vancouver, Washington food cart.
Former royal chef McGrady, whose distinguished culinary career started at London’s luxe Savoy Hotel, opened Winston’s British Fish N Chips in early March, serving fried cod, chicken wings, and smoked fish chowder out of a church parking lot. After McGrady’s royal tenure ended, he decided to switch gears, going from “palace to Dallas” to take a job as a private chef. As with many expatriate Britons now living stateside, McGrady made a beeline to his local British pubs in search of familiar dishes like cottage pie, full English breakfasts, and of course, fish and chips. But for him, the standard simply wasn’t there.
Although fish and chips is a dish which is very much familiar to Americans, the U.S. doesn’t have the same culture around it as the U.K. “Going back [decades] ago in the U.K., people would be paid cash on a Friday night,” McGrady says. “And so, most middle class people were ‘rich’ on a Friday, as a special treat — and also because at the time the whole country pretty much was under the Church of England — it was ‘eat fish on a Friday.’”
McGrady’s vision of true-to-form, British fish and chips prizes cod above any other fish, with scratch-made mushy Marrowfat peas or curry sauce, plus the customary malt vinegar. That exact iteration, using frozen-at-sea Alaskan cod and Yukon Gold potatoes, is now served at Winston’s. For dipping, the food truck offers its own chippy sauce, a vinegar-based brown sauce McGrady says is a specialty regional to Edinburgh. It’s something he would look forward to every time he would travel to Holyrood Palace with Queen Elizabeth II.
“As a young boy, I remember going with my granddad to the fish and chip shop,” McGrady says. “And he made me carry a big handful of tied up newspapers. Because back then, fish and chips were served in newspapers and you would get extra chips or a piece of fish or something like that in return for bringing newspapers [to the shop].”
McGrady rounds out the menu with wings coated in a sweet-and-spicy sauce and a house-smoked fish chowder. The chef adapted his chowder from a Scottish dish called Cullen skink, which traditionally uses smoked haddock but has a thinner viscosity than a New England clam chowder. The chef hasn’t ruled out adding other dishes like battered sausage and Cornish pasties in the future, but one item McGrady definitely intends to serve is bread-and-butter pudding, which McGrady says was Princess Diana’s favorite dessert.
On his YouTube channel, McGrady demonstrates how to make classic British dishes like Victoria Sponge, posted alongside click-y titles like “Former Royal Chef Cooks ‘Spaggy Bol’ for Prince William and Harry.” McGrady’s business partner Timothy Johnson, the CEO of labor organization internet service provider Unions America, had the original idea to start a fish-and-chips food cart. While doing research, he discovered the chef via his YouTube channel and contacted him about taking on a consulting role. As the project progressed, McGrady’s involvement increased.
“I wanted the food truck to be the Harrod’s of food trucks,” McGrady says. “The presentation has to be beautiful — we designed the [takeout] box and have the London Times [tissue] paper in there.” But Winston’s takeout containers aren’t just designed for form, they were also crafted with specific function in mind. McGrady was cognizant that he was in a race against time for diners who ordered the fish and chips to take home: “You’ve got to eat fish and chips when that batter is crunchy, and so I had to devise a recipe that had a hold time of 40 minutes from being passed through the window to people taking them home or to the office.”
The two hope to expand the brand rapidly, hoping to open several carts in the Portland and Vancouver area and across the country by year’s end. Most will be stationary, but Winston’s will also have a smaller cart that will travel to different events — naturally, McGrady already has his sights on Corgi Beach Day. The company will open its flagship location in Dallas this May to coincide with the coronation of King Charles III.
“I just wanted to bring a taste of Britain to the U.S. because whenever I talk to American friends, they say ‘Oh, I went to the U.K. and I love their fish and chips,’” McGrady says. “Everybody loves fish and chips — it’s just one of those things.”
Winston’s British Fish N Chips is open at 2711 NE Andresen Road.