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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Behind the Stove for Britain

Ian Oliver has seen the incredibly polite, the famous and the rich with sauce dribbling down their chins.


As head chef at Moscow's British Embassy, he has fed Prime Minister John Major four times and Queen Elizabeth once. He has cooked for King Hussein of Jordan as well as various millionaires in Geneva, Palm Beach and Monte Carlo. But his current role has been a bit more demanding.


Since one of the best ways of fostering business and social ties between two countries, or two people, is through a good meal, Oliver's daily role is crucial. And it's intense.


The first half of last week, for example, looked like this: 22 business types for dinner Monday; a reception for 120 political and social whirlers Tuesday -- followed by an intimate dinner for 12 -- and eight foreign correspondents for lunch the next day.


"Two years ago, we had maybe one lunch a week," said Oliver, 34, who said he has watched the British Embassy grow both in its function and staff during his three years at the embassy. In August, Oliver heads back to England.


"Three years out here is enough," he said. "I'm a hot country person. And I'm a little tired."


Born in a rural area near Northampton, England, Oliver says he comes from a family of good cooks and has been hanging around kitchens since he was a child. His road to chefdom started at age 13 when he earned pocket money washing dishes at local restaurants.


"When you sit down, it's got to make your mouth water. It shouldn't be too attractive so you don't want to touch it though," Oliver said of the food he has been making for 20 years. "I've played around with food so much. I can take a piece of chicken in my head and then draw pictures of how I want it to look and then I go in and make it."


His boyhood dream of becoming an architect is evident in his creations which are meticulously catalogued in a scrapbook he keeps in his desk drawer in the embassy's basement.


"I do a lot of painting," he said as he showed photos of mousses laid out on beds of greens and fluffy meringues swimming in custard sauce that look like Miro paintings. "I'm very artistic and you can make a nice picture with desserts."


Mornings, he says he spends two hours preparing food and overseeing his staff of seven. Then, some time is spent sorting menu costs and shopping for food. Before a lunch or dinner, he puts on his suit, checks the silverware and leaps into action.


"There's the kitchen and there's the service -- the outside part," he said. "When you're manager of a household, it's different. And I enjoy that part of it."


When he goes back to his apartment at the end of the day, leaving behind Ambassador and Lady Wood and the grand embassy, Oliver's meals are predictable. "I'm a very simple eater myself," he said. "After work, I'll go home and eat baked beans out of a tin or cheese on toast."