Dena Saunderson Private Chef + Food Historian

For truly wonder-full, British eccentric and vintage cooking at it’s best. Great smart food, or be creative and  treat your VIP with something super special – food from the time of their younger years. 

Come step back into the past with Dena, a jolly good time, plenty of stories to keep anyone who loves British history interested, and she is well known and loved for her amazing food. She’s a Cordon Bleu chef with 40 years of experience, and even an A-Level in Home Economics!

Dena can do ready-meals dropped off at home for you, a high tea, or a 5 course meal for 20. 

Her CV includes, private chef for all the parties and day-to-day eating at Beaulieu’s Palace House, including working with Dr Annie Gray, the BBC’s go-to food historian, to renovate the Victorian kitchen and scullery back into to usable condition. She then cooked on it for years but said that she missed having a scullery maid – apparently the old wage was £9 a year and hours were ‘pretty reasonable’ with a start at 5.30am and finish at 10pm – and 6 days off a year!  She is a chocolate-fountain of knowledge about food and history. From the Victorians to current times, there isn’t much that’s passed her by. Her collection of retro food cook books is comprehensive, well thumbed and splotched with sauces. 

“Cooking for the family was never boring and it could range from a 3 course dinner for 1 or 16. Cooking for Celebrities,business lunches and shooting dinners and bbqs where we told 40 prepared food for 50 and fed 60, Boat lunches and dinners! Add to that fruit picking, marmalade making and cooking for the village fete life was busy.”


Puddings, Cakes and High Teas

“Well, I can do anything you like? Old Lord Montagu’s favourite dessert was flambe peaches or bananas. I do a Bombe Mexicaine – a 1970’s pudding – quite often at the moment – it’s a coffee and brown sugar meringue layered up with a coffee and caramel cream and a chocolate cream. I still cook for special events for the main house.

These are a few thoughts from my high tea menu recently:
A selection of dainty sandwiches with homemade breads, Individual Cakes and Pastries, fondant fancy, chocolate tart, fruit cake, Meringues, small scones with cream and Beaulieu Jam.

Or if you fancy some savoury retro’s, how about the 60’s terrines, mousses? She can make them super-fabulous-darling, and borrow the vintage molds from the Palace House kitchen. She has plenty of stories to draw on. As the family chef, she lived in a flat at the top of Palace House for over 35 years.

Dena’s stories start with lines like, “He said, Dena, I’ve bought you a conger eel, you’re the only person who might be able to deal with it… and I took it into the main kitchen and it was so big I had to use a meat cleaver to take it apart – it tasted off potted shrimp – just big!”

Or perhaps this, “Mrs Pleydell-Bourverie, was the current Lord Montagu’s grandmother. We used her food diaries from the 1950’s and learnt how to cook the food. It wasn’t that great. There was still food-rations in the UK until 1956, so food was basic. It’s why the Brits got a reputation for average and bland food.” She goes on to fill me in about life in WWII at the house. The SOE were stationed at Beaulieu . Website ‘New Forest Life’, writes, “Beaulieu was a training centre for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose role was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe during the Second World War”. Visit their SOE page here.  

The Victorian Kitchen is still very much part of life at Beaulieu. You can go on tours of the estate and often most staff dress in Victorian garb. Ask about House Tours when booking. Read more about the launch here. 

Food provenance

Luckily for you, Dena’s career has meant that she can get much of her veg’ from the kitchen gardens at Palace House, which is right behind her cottage at Beaulieu. Fish is super local from Bart, the young keen fisher-chap from Milford on Sea – most comes from the Solent – and now can deliver the most amazing local crab. Meat is from very nearby and comes from forest farms run by traditional Commoning families – farms with ‘the right of using common ground’ for their animals. This is an ancient practice and special to the National Park. 


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