Victory In The Kitchen by Annie Gray review: ‘Popular history at its very best’

Annie Gray’s delicious Victory In The Kitchen, a biography of Georgina Landemare, Winston Churchill’s cook, is ‘popular history at its very best’

Victory In The Kitchen: The Life Of Churchill’s Cook

Annie Gray                                                                                     Profile Books £16.99


If armies march on their stomachs, the same is true of the politicians who send them into war. Winston Churchill wouldn’t have been half the man he was without the jugged hare, cherry tart and chicken soup made for him by his resident cook, Mrs Georgina Landemare. 

In this delicious book, food historian Dr Annie Gray tells the story of two 20th-century Britons from very different backgrounds, one an aristocrat, the other a working-class servant, who bonded over their love of grub.

Georgina started her life as a domestic servant in the usual way, working as a scullery maid in the kitchens of a grand Kensington household. The 15-year-old was paid a pittance to get up at 5am, fall in bed by 10pm and spend the hours in between peeling veg, scouring copper pans and picking up tips from the resident cook. 

In this delicious book, food historian Annie Gray tells the story of Churchill and Georgina Landemare, two Britons from very different backgrounds who bonded over their love of grub

In this delicious book, food historian Annie Gray tells the story of Churchill and Georgina Landemare, two Britons from very different backgrounds who bonded over their love of grub

This last bit was important: Georgina knew that her future career would depend on being able to turn out the elaborate French-style dishes so beloved of the Edwardian upper classes. By the age of 25, she was a dab hand at everything from elaborate ice creams to such delights as Cervelles à la Connaught, ‘a very rich, mildly spiced and fruity brain stew’.

What really gave Georgina a leg up in the competitive world of professional cookery, though, was her marriage in 1909 to Paul Landemare, a much older and more experienced French chef. 

From him she learned how to turn out authentic haute cuisine, rather than the watered-down English versions. Their joint expertise meant that the Landemares were no longer required to take live-in positions as servants. Instead they could pick and choose their employment, hiring themselves out as independent caterers and setting their own fees. It was a world away from sleeping in someone else’s attic and getting up to light the kitchen fire at dawn.

It was the year after Paul’s death in 1932 that Georgina went to work for the Churchills. At first she was simply drafted in for big occasions – Winston was a great believer in doing important political business over a well-furnished dinner table and Georgina’s duck à la presse and truite reine Marie (Queen Mary trout) went a long way to ensuring that complicated matters proceeded smoothly. 


Churchill trained his pet budgie, which he called Toby, to parade up and down the dining table, carrying a spoon of salt in his beak. 

But by the time war broke out, Georgina was looking for a permanent job and suggested to a delighted Clementine Churchill that she become the family’s resident cook.

Annie Gray, a panellist on Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, has unearthed wonderful details about Georgina’s wartime kitchen. While the Churchills were subject to rationing like everyone else, their aristocratic connections meant there were plenty of extras: exotic food parcels arrived from America, and the King routinely sent game from his estates. 

The fact that the Germans might single out 10 Downing Street for a bombing raid while Georgina was in the middle of knocking up a Mousse de Maple only added to the sense of adventure.  

We get fascinating glimpses, too, of the Prime Minister: Winston had the unnerving habit of wandering around with no clothes on.

This is popular history at its very best.