NOT many people can boast to have enjoyed Christmas dinner with the Middletons. But Craig Macdonald can.
The owner of the Haywain restaurant, in East Bergholt, cooked Christmas dinner for the family when Kate was still at university and holidaying with her parents at a ski resort in Meribel, France.
Craig says: “It was my very first week working for a holiday company that provided luxury chalets with private chefs. The Middleton family came to stay during Christmas week and we all sat down and had the traditional turkey lunch together.
“I remember Kate had recently moved up to St Andrews in Scotland for university and I made some comment about how Prince William was also studying there and she just smiled.”
Craig laughs: “Now I know why she didn’t elaborate.
“They were such a lovely family and her parents look exactly the same now. It is just so weird that they were my very first guests and that is why I remembered them.”
The job was one of Craig’s favourites, not least because it is where he met his partner Amy Smith, who was working as a nanny at the resort.
The couple travelled from one holiday destination to another, he working as a chef and Amy as a nanny. They would spend summers in Majorca and winters in Mirabelle.
Craig explains: “The ski season was brilliant, all I had to do was cook breakfast, tidy up and then I would go off and ski. “I had to be back to make afternoon tea and dinner. It was great.”
Despite cooking for the wife of the future King of England, being a chef was not always the top of Craig’s list.
Born in South Africa, Craig moved to Canada with his parents as a teenager and admits he began cooking “out of necessity”.
“I needed a job,” he explains. “Looking back now, I am lucky to have found this industry. I am doing a job I love.”
Going from working in large American diners, to intimate hotels and venues in the Rockies, Craig came to visit his sister in London and ended up staying.
“I had worked under two French chefs in Vancouver. They said if you want to do anything in this business, you have to work in the UK and Europe. “They told me there are a lot more possibilities, so I moved here in 2001 and went on to work for holiday companies.”
After leaving the holiday company Craig went into private service, working as a cook for wealthy families.
“You’d be surprised how much of a big business it is,” says Craig, who has worked for families in Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire and Essex.
He admits some requests were baffling to him as a result of his background. Craig laughs: “I am not born and bred British so at first I didn’t know what they were talking about when they asked for spotted dick for pudding.”
One family even took him along to their holiday home in Mustique to cook there – while Amy was whisked off on a yacht around Sardinia to nanny for another family’s children.
The Haywain came along seven years ago when the couple decided the time was right to settle down to something more permanent. The Grade II-listed building seats just 20 and Craig is the only chef.
Despite the hard work, he still closed the restaurant for two months every summer to do private service in Majorca, sometimes for a well-known television presenter, but professional as ever, Craig refuses to spill the beans on names.
Craig and Amy, who are expecting their first child in August, have no grand plans to expand.
Craig says: “I don’t want a place that seats 100. People come here for the quality of the food and the consistency. I am the only chef. If I expanded the restaurant I would have to take on another chef and serving more people means inevitably the quality goes down.
“Currently, I can come out into the restaurant and chat to customers. We have a loyal customer base. I know who they are and what they like to drink and eat. “People say coming to the Haywain is like being invited to an elegant dinner party and that’s exactly the idea I had when I first opened the restaurant.”
Craig is keen to let people know the Haywain, while an elegant and classy place to enjoy dinner, is not silver service and beyond the reach of most diners.
He says: “Often I see people looking in saying the restaurant looks lovely, but it looks expensive.
“We are not cheap, but we are not expensive. “When people come to eat they have the table for the whole evening. “Sometimes large parties take over the whole restaurant and they can play their own music or play the piano. It’s lovely.”
If he didn’t have enough on his plate Craig is already thinking about branching out. “He is keen on finding an alternative venue for the restaurant that has enough space for three or four bed and breakfast rooms above.
“But that’s if I win the lottery,” laughs Craig. “As long as I am happy, I will continue running this restaurant.”