Nash view of Great Kitchen, 1826.
You are now standing in the King’s Kitchen or Great Kitchen, the most technologically advanced kitchen of the period. It was mainly used for preparing meat dishes and sauces, and was one of five rooms dedicated to preparing food in George’s time.
George was an enthusiastic host, and this is reflected in the kitchen, which is large, light and unusually close to the Banqueting Room. In most palaces and great houses the kitchen would be further away, or even in a separate building. This was partly because of the danger of fire, and partly to keep the smell of cooking well away from guests. But. George was so proud of his kitchens that he regularly brought his guests to inspect them, and on one famous occasion even had dinner here, albeit on a red carpet laid over the bare flagstones. He even took an interest in the decoration; if you follow the four cast iron columns upwards, you will see that they’re disguised as palm trees. You’ll also notice that the ceiling is very high, to help the fierce heat of the kitchen escape.
The prince was a great lover of French culture and food, and employed many French chefs throughout his life, even following the French Revolution, when French workers were often the cause of suspicion among the aristocracy. George valued chefs so highly that he regularly poached them from other great houses, much to their employers’ dismay. In 1816 he hired the leading celebrity chef of the period, the renowned Antonin Carême. One of Carême’s famous menus, featuring no fewer than 100 dishes, is displayed in the kitchen – though guests weren’t expected to try every dish! Unfortunately for George, Carême became homesick, and within a year of arriving, had returned to France. By the way a copy of this menu is available to buy in the shop as you exit the Pavilion.
In George’s day women were rarely employed in the kitchen. It was extremely hot, and the male chefs tended to strip to the waist, as well as use rather colourful language, which was thought inappropriate for women. In addition, kitchen staff were relatively well paid, and men did not want women taking their jobs.
The kitchen was full of technological innovations. The most remarkable was a large steam table in the centre of the room, which had a cast-iron top, bound in brass. It was heated by steam from a boiler behind the kitchen range, and was designed to keep up to thirty different dishes warm before they were served at table. The table hasn’t survived, but you can see it in the picture displayed here.
Over at the fireplace meat was roasted on five spits, which rotated automatically, using a system of gears and pulleys. They were driven by a device called a smoke jack, a kind of metal turbine in the chimney driven by the powerful up-draught from the fire. It meant that several roast dishes could be prepared at once.
Opposite them was an entire range of stewing stoves, made of cast iron and heated by steam using a system devised by William Slark, who supplied the cooking equipment between 1817 and 1818. Slark also made the Pavilion’s cast iron staircases.
Behind the Great Kitchen there were several others, including a pastry kitchen full of stewing stoves, hot closets and ovens, where pastry could be made away from the heat of the range; a steaming kitchen equipped with a steam boiler; a kitchen for the household staff, known as the Family or Household kitchen, which was used for preparing staff meals as well as food for the Prince on private occasions; and a servants’ hall equipped with a kitchen range. Sadly, none of these kitchens survive.