Sunday, September 28, 2014


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fast During White House Dinner

Indian Prime Minister's Visit to U.S. Coincides With Strict Religious Fast, Posing Etiquette Challenge

Sept. 25, 2014 5:52 p.m. ET
During his visit to the U.S., Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has plans for a private dinner with President Barack Obama and lunch with Vice President Joe Biden. There's one complication. He won't be eating.
Mr. Modi arrives Friday in the middle of a strict nine-day religious fast, raising a delicate question for the White House: How do you host a dinner for a foreign leader who is forgoing food?
Such visits are meticulously choreographed, with months of planning and entire dossiers devoted to guests' dietary restrictions and religious beliefs. An extended fast is an unusual challenge, said Walter Scheib, a former longtime White House executive chef, who said he couldn't recall a similar situation.
Every leader "has different concerns, from the prosaic, such as I don't eat garlic, to this one—I don't eat," Mr. Scheib said. While he noted that the White House is adroit when it comes to etiquette, the arrangement at dinner has the potential to be slightly awkward. "It's very bad form to sit in front of fasting guests and eat heartily," he said. "It's just not polite."
Administration officials have been tight-lipped about what, if anything, the president and vice president will eat during meals with Mr. Modi. During the nine days of Navratri, a Hindu festival, the menu for the prime minister consists only of water and perhaps a bit of lime water.
"No food, no juices, no substitutes," said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The prime minister has been observing the fast for 40 years and it doesn't affect his energy levels or his work, Mr. Kohli said. This five-day trip could test that proposition. Mr. Modi has an ambitious schedule encompassing nearly three dozen engagements in Washington, D.C., and New York, including addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Australia
Enthusiasm is building for the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi who will be arriving in New York this Friday, September 26, 2014. Adapa Prasad of the Indian-American Community Foundation believes, “It is the biggest event ever for any state head visiting the United States.” Modi’s Madison Square Garden address tickets are selling out quickly as city planners ramp up their efforts to run additional trains and subways to meet audience demand. Other methods of support are also making an appearance, strangely enough, in the form of ink. India’s Daily News and Analysis reports that some Modi fans are endorsing the Prime Minister’s visit by tattooing themselves with the faces of Modi and Obama.

The Prime Minister’s visit is definitely creating a sense of excitement, as well as diplomatic concerns in other areas. Traditional protocol for the White House is to provide a state dinner for visiting diplomats like Prime Minister Modi. However, on this occasion, the Prime Minister’s visit coincides with the nine-day observation of the Navratri, a Hindu festival that begins on September 25 (2014) and ends on October 3. And while Navratri Vrat rules do make allowances for several flours, grains, spices and herb -  strict Hindus will maintain a liquid fast for the full nine days. Prime Minister Modi has kept the appointed fast for over 35 years. Narendra Modi does allow himself the intake of lemonade and honey.

I can definitely say that this kind of situation has never happened in the 11 years that I was there.  However, I will also concur that the White House staff and the first families will go out of their way to provide a gracious and hospitable visit to all guests. I’m certain that the Prime Minister will be cared for and all of his needs will be satisfied. Besides that, it is also a great opportunity for the beekeepers at the White House to make Prime Minister Modi’s visit a little more comfortable by providing him with some of the homegrown honey from the garden. 

Prime Minister Modi with School Children

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I will never forget the brave young wish kid that I met during the Clinton administration while at the White House.  This kid, who was carrying the burden of a life-threatening illness, had been granted a wish to meet President Clinton.  I would describe him as being somewhat of a sage, way beyond his 12 young tender years.  I greeted him on the tour and we had a chance to talk.  I'm not sure how our conversation started, but he must have sensed something in me that expressed a note of sorrow. He looked at me and stated very matter of factly, "The only difference between you and me is that I know when I'm going to die.  You've got a problem in the meantime.  Because right now, I'm going to live my life."

The knowledge and courage that was expressed from this young guest at the White House still echo at me. His words instill a sense of humility and mindfulness of the short time we have been allotted. 

Recently, I received a phone call from Make-A-Wish Southern Florida Foundation.  They asked me to help them with a dinner.  I played a small role in hosting the talk that night, but I was more than happy to help out.  It is truly an amazing thing to know how little efforts can help grant wishes that fuel a multitude of dreams.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is guided by the principle that one wish can be life changing.

Margie, a mom whose son received a granted wish, said it best - "Spending time in and out of hospitals is a stark reminder of the fragility of Elias' condition and the need to make the most of every moment with him.  The wish experience did just that; it gave us so many memories to remember - moments of joy.  Elias' wish day is still remembered by our family as the most joyous experience of our lives."

More wish stories here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I am very excited to be a co-producer for The President's Kitchen Cabinet, an up and coming TV documentary. The final production promises to be an insightful and groundbreaking film that will peer into the personal and professional lives of African-American cooks who have served in the White House. I am collaborating with Adrian Miller- food writer, politico, attorney and author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time.

Adrian shares that, "After watching The President's Kitchen Cabinet, you'll discover that these cooks were not only culinary artists, but they also served our presidents as personal confidantes, informal policy advisors, civil rights advocates and family friends." He has compiled stories for the film which include "The Poisoned Pea Plot of 1776" - an account of the cook  who saved President Washington's life, the grill chef who cooked on the White House roof with President Eisenhower, the enslaved cook who managed to learn classical French cooking and the female cook who inspired President Lyndon to lobby for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

As you can imagine, a worthwhile production like The President's Kitchen Cabinet not only demands a tremendous amount of research and interviewing, but it also requires support - both moral and monetary. A Kickstarter campaign has been started to help introduce the film to television networks and producers. If you feel compelled to be part of The President's Kitchen Cabinet support team, I would be extremely grateful. Every person who backs this project counts. Every donation, no matter what the amount - speaks volumes. Please feel free to share the exciting news about The President's Kitchen Cabinet. Here is the link.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


It was exciting to hear the shouts, cheers and generous applause that erupted in this year's ProStart Invitational Awards Ceremony. Students, parents and coaches alike were overjoyed for the 300 plus students who had worked so hard throughout the school year to finally compete at the national competition in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prostart champions hail from 46 states, territories and Department of Defense bases. This year's first place teams included Simon Sanchez High School from Yigo, Guam (culinary) and Rockwall High School from Rockwall, Texas (management). The top five winning teams for both culinary and management took home their share of $3.75 million dollars in scholarships

Part of the culinary criteria for each four member team was to provide a starter, an entree and dessert within 60 minutes while being limited to two portable butane burners. There were several categories that were assigned to each judge which included knife skills, sanitation, menu checking, product check-in and tasting. I was granted the duty of entree tasting. So, over the course of two days my three judge panel group had the pleasure of tasting 46 entrees. You can imagine, pacing myself is something that I've learned to do well.

I enjoyed seeing the faces of anticipation and nervousness coming from the ranks of these talented students. The majority of the competitors prepared excellent food in both flavor and appearance. Many thanks go out to the folks at NRAEF who have designed a top notch culinary and management program that help over 1700 schools. And kudos to each one of the Prostart Invitational champions.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Today is National Pi Day, a day in which math lovers everywhere are celebrating the symbol of Pi π (not to be confused with National Pie Day that takes place in January). Pi π is the Greek symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant - the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter which is approximately 3.14159.  Online shoppers can easily locate some sites that are offering deals or shipping for $3.14.  The Professional Dairy Producers Foundation had a little play with "Pi" this week when they hosted a Pie Eating Contest to raise educational money for dairy farmers and producers around the nation. I was fortunate to be a contestant. 

From the desk of Shelly Mayer, Director of the Professional Dairy Producer Foundation:
Former White House Chef Eats Pie, Strauss Winner for 2nd Straight Year in Dairy Foundation's Pie Eating Contest

Pie Eating Contest finals capped Day One of the Professional Dairy Producers Business Conference in Madison, Wis.  Pictured are Mike Hutjens, professor emeritus, University of Illinois; Winner Dean Strauss of Sheboygan Falls; Former White House Chef Walter Scheib, keynote speaker; and Keith Engel, GEA Farm Technologies.
MADISON, Wis. --Former White House Chef Walter Scheib was a dark horse entry in the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation Pie Eating Finals held Wednesday night during the Professional Dairy Producers Business Conference in Madison, WI.  Scheib, along with two other runners-up, could not devour as much pie as defending champion Dean Strauss, dairy producer from Sheboygan Falls, WI.  With his win, Strauss defended the title he earned one year ago. 

The 2014 Pie Eating Contest doubled the amount of money raised in last year's contest, with $22,572 going toward educational programming by the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation. The new record was reached thanks to spirited campaigning among the finalists, and Scheib's late entry cooked up generous sponsors who propelled him into the finals.

Joining Scheib and Strauss in the Pie Eating Finals were two other contestants: Keith Engel, GEA Farm Technologies, and Mike Hutjens, professor emeritus, University of Illinois.  Contestants who fell just short of the finals were Marty Hallock, dairy producer from Mondovi, Carl Babler of Atten Babler Commodities; Mark Clarke, executive director of the Alliant Energy Center; and Jim Dickrell, editor and associate publisher of Dairy Today magazine.  The Finalists earned their positions by garnering votes prior to the Finals.

Each vote was a $1 donation to the Foundation, made by dairy farmers and dairy industry professionals who supported their favorite candidates.  Scheib, who earlier in the evening gave the keynote address to Business Conference attendees, made the Finals thanks to a spontaneous sponsorship on stage by John Roach and Associates, Breeze Dairy Group, First Capitol Ag, matched by Charlie Arno, president of CMA Consulting.

"The Pie Eating Contest is a fun way to end a great day at the Professional Dairy Producers business Conference," says Deb Reinhart, Development Manager for the Foundation. "We thank the dairy community and these fun-loving, dedicated contestants who raised money to support youth and dairy community education projects."  
 Film footage can be found here.

Monday, February 10, 2014


President Obama and Francois Hollande  (

Meeting cuisine expectations for a state dinner is a daunting task in and of itself.  Add to the mix an unexpected revelation in the life of the guest of honor and protocol challenges get a lot more complicated. 

Here is an article by New York Time's journalist Peter Baker.  He details the challenges of tomorrow night's state dinner in a piece called, 
 French Breakup Makes a Dinner Hard to Do.

WASHINGTON - When President Obama invited President François Hollande of France for a state dinner, the White House drew up a list of 300 guests to honor the visiting leader and his partner, Valérie Trierweiler.  Engraved invitations, with the presidential seal in gold, at the top, were printed and set to be mailed.

But there was an unexpected development.  Mr. Hollande's relationship with Ms. Trierweiler blew up in the midst of revelations of an affair with a French actress he had secretly been visiting by motor scooter.  Suddenly, Ms. Trierweiler was no longer France's unofficial first lady and no longer coming to the White House for Tuesday's dinner.  The thick ivory invitations with the words "The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of" each guest's company had to be destroyed and new ones printed without Ms. Trierweiler's name.

L'affaire Hollande has proved to be a dangerous liaison for the tradition-bound White House.  Although it is not unprecedented, not many foreign leaders arrive at the executive mansion stag for the most formal and coveted gala in Washington, and even fewer split from their partners just weeks before the festivities.

For a few days, at least, the White House social office was left to wonder whether the other woman - identified by the weekly tabloid Closer as a 41 year old French actress - would come in place of Ms. Trierweiler.  (She will not.)

All of which posed challenges for a White House staff already nervous about holding the first state dinner in nearly two years, and for haute cuisine-conscious French guests no less.  There will be no traditional coffee or tea for the spouse with Michelle Obama, and the American first lady will have no one to escort to a local school as she has done with previous counterparts.

The turn of events in the private life of Mr. Hollande, 59, posed a number of questions for the White House as well:  Who should be placed next to the prsident in the seat Ms. Trierweiler would have occupied?  Would any of the entertainment be inappropriate?  Should there be dancing if the romantically complicated guest of honor has no one to dance with?

"That may be a bit of protocol debacle there," said Walter Scheib, the White House chef to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  "It'll be curious to see if he asks the first lady for a dance.  That would be on the front of all the tabloids - Frenchman sweeps first lady off feet!"

To continue this article please go directly to the NY times site here