Chef in Chief

22 Jan

Basically, this is a job that I never really understood until this year. Does the chef have to be short-order? If Obama wants mac n’ cheese at 4 a.m., does the chef have to make it?

I actually wrote a little speech on the White House chef last fall for a public speaking class, so I threw some of the stuff from that on, too:

The Executive Chef staff is often so well qualified that it will stay on for multiple administrations. Comerford was also the Bush administration’s dinner designer, and her predecessor, Walter Scheib, worked with both the Bush and Clinton families. Without a doubt, food and taste come before politics in the dishes the kitchen passes out. It’s not democrat or republican; it’s arugula or romaine.

Though they can keep the same job, being executive chef is as adaptable as the seasonal menu. According to Kate Barrett of ABC news’ article, “Recipe for Success,” “eating styles, like governing styles, differ.” The biggest challenge to the White House chef is evolving to dietary and taste requirements. Bill Clinton, for example, loved sweets but was allergic to dairy products. That pretty much rules out chocolate or cream and especially turtle cheesecake. Laura Bush was keen on fresh and organic products, so you’d be more likely to see a fruit bowl as the finishing touch instead of a cookie. Mrs. Obama is of the same palate, and recently the chefs have been working with an on-site garden containing over 55 different vegetables, according to Marian Burros’ New York Times article.

There are some dietary restrictions that the President’s family may have, but like anyone, the First Family has its own favorite foods and methods of eating them. “If the President said, ‘I like my steak totally black on the outside,’ then you’d better make it this way,” said former Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier. Having the Commander in Chief as your primary client is radically different than working for any other customer. It’s a constant learning process, and just like what’s fresh for this month, the job is always changing.

One of the charges the Executive Chefs have had is harnessing what is palatable to the President and then expanding it further into the State Dinner. The State Dinner is the summit of cultures and dignitaries in the dining room of the White House. Here, foreign visitors join the President for conversation and a gourmet dinner that gives them a sample of what America tastes like. The Executive Chef often works in tandem with the First Lady to create what’s on the plate, but sometimes the President hires a guest chef. The current White House blog spells out what’s served. The May, 2010 dinner featured Oregon beef with black mole as the main course. Grilled green beans and black bean tamalon keep the beef company. For the sweet finish, guest chef Rick Bayless dished out goat cheese ice cream.


I just think this would be an awesome job. You’d get to be so creatively challenged to think about what you’re serving. Your job is to represent everything American cuisine is as well as impress the diners that know what food here in the States is like. I think making Tex-Mex food for a Scandinavian dignitary would be palate-shaking.

Now that that’s all passed, I wonder what the White House pizza delivery guy’s life is like.


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