Breathing Space May 2002
Buckingham Palace's kitchens have been given a
complete make-over in a redevelopment which has effectively sliced them in half
and allowed the installation of a state-of-the-art ventilation system in the
Located on the ground floor of the palace - which, curiously, is referred to as
the basement - the kitchens used to have soaring ceilings about 8m high.
"Ventilation was one of the big bugbears over the last seven or eight
years, but because of the large height of the kitchen, nothing could be
done," says royal chef Lionel Mann, who has worked in the royal kitchens
for 41 years, having originally served an apprenticeship in the kitchens of
Vauxhall Motors in Luton, Bedfordshire.
Now the problem has been solved through a project in which a new Queen's Gallery
has been built, with a lecture theatre on a mezzanine floor created from the top
half of the kitchen. This means the new kitchens now have ceilings at the more
reasonable height of 3.5m.
Moreover, a Giff ceiling has been installed, so the entire ceiling is ventilated
without the need for trunking. Each area of the kitchen is individually
temperature-controlled and all the panels in the ceiling can be removed for
The architect for the Queen's Gallery and royal kitchens project was John
Simpson & Partners, while the kitchen design was by the Grantham Winch
Partnership. Buckingham Palace is the most recent of the royal palace kitchens
to be renewed in the last few years - new kitchens were installed at Windsor
three years ago and Balmoral two years ago, while Sandringham's equipment was
updated last year. With this experience behind them, Mann, his chefs and the
rest of the palace team had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve at
Buckingham Palace, which was last fully renovated in the late 1960s and early
Much of the kitchen is located in the same position as before, but some extra
space has been gained from former offices, and the larder has been moved. At the
heart of the kitchen complex is the Royal Kitchen, or hot kitchen. This is a
large, square room with four parallel island suites leading down to two long hot
cupboards from Holmes Catering which are used as a pass. A priority was to have
all the cooking suites leading down to the pass, whereas previously some were
parallel to it.
Another of Mann's priorities was to create a good flow. "I wanted
deliveries to flow through raw preparation and then into the hot kitchen,"
he explains. "The new layout keeps raw and cooked food apart more easily
and is much more efficient."
Refrigeration, too, was a big issue. Previously there were two walk-in fridges
and one walk-in freezer - now there are three additional walk-in fridges. Also,
numerous under-counter fridges have been installed, whereas before there were
none at all. Two large Foster blast chillers have been retained from the old
The refrigeration plant for the walk-ins and the air conditioning in the
kitchens and the Queen's Gallery is unusual in that it uses a geothermic cooling
system. Instead of having the usual condensing towers on a roof, cooling is
achieved by using water drawn from a bore hole drilled in the palace garden. A
maximum of 22 litres of water per second can be drawn to feed the underground
refrigeration plant room in the garden. Visually, this system has benefits in
that it doesn't require towers to be stuck on the palace roof. But its main
advantage is environmental because it helps to reduce London's over-high water
At Buckingham Palace the kitchen caters for an extraordinary diversity of
occasions - anything from the Queen's lunch to state banquets, from functions
for members of the household to food for up to 450 staff. It can cope with up to
350 for functions and up to 1,500 for canapés.
For about 18 months while the new kitchen was being built and installed, Mann
and his team worked from a temporary kitchen created within the palace. The
temporary kitchen had a raised floor to accommodate power and plumbing. It had
ventilation installed and was properly fitted out with equipment from the old
kitchen and some new work surfaces. This meant the brigade managed to work as
usual, with the exception of four state visits and two diplomatic receptions for
1,500, which had to be transferred to Windsor.
The Royal Kitchen
One striking feature of the Royal Kitchen is the number of historic
appliances dotted about, most of which are thought to date back to Victorian
times. An old gas oven made by J Slater is no longer in use, but a neighbouring
hot cupboard with venerable wooden doors is occasionally pressed into service -
though it is more commonly used to store gastronome trays. It was once heated
with live steam - which was taken out of the palace some 20 years ago - and has
since been converted to electric heating.
In an alcove there is a splendid old gas range, which has been refurbished and
has an added safety rail. Its burners are at two different levels, but both are
very low, making it perfect for stockpots and large pans. "You can't use
too high a pot on the modern stoves because of the fire suppression
system," says Mann.
Ambach ranges have been incorporated into the island suites, some with solid
tops and some with gas burners. Mann especially likes the design of the solid
tops, which are rectangular with a gully around them where any spills drain, to
be collected in a drawer underneath. Unlike many solid tops they do not have a
"bull's-eye" and are designed to have an even temperature all over.
The two middle island suites have Gram under-counter refrigeration and lots of
space for prep work, while most of the cooking appliances are in the two outer
suites. Wherever there are cooking appliances in the suites, there is an Ansul
fire-suppression system mounted above.
The kitchen complex occupies numerous rooms with corridors running between them,
so there are many doors. To prevent them being a nuisance to busy chefs, they
have all been fitted with automatic opening devices that operate as people
Mann heads a brigade of 20 chefs who work in all the royal palaces, following
the Queen around the country. On his chef's jacket are several medal ribbons -
two are Victorian Order medals, one is a Silver Jubilee medal and a fourth is
his long-service medal.
There is a great deal of stainless-steel countering, made by Spectrum, for prep,
and many of the island counters have power points to avoid trailing cables.
All the Rational combination ovens in the kitchen (three in total) have their
own Brita water-filter system. "We used to have to descale the ovens,"
explains Mann. "Combi-ovens have taken over a lot of the work steamers used
to do," he says, adding that he still likes to use the Electrolux
high-pressure steamer for vegetables and steamed puddings.
A group of Frymaster fryers has a Filter Magic II filter alongside them. Mann
says his previous fryers had an automatic filtration system but that it didn't
work terribly well.
In the royal pastry area one of the new pieces of equipment is a Tom Chandley
deck oven. Bread is bought in, but rolls, morning goods and pizza bases are all
made in the palace, and previously there was only a convection oven in which to