Wednesday, May 6, 2015

COOKING WITH ELIZABETH

Making Peach-Blackberry Cobbler



Elizabeth Case is a bright and cheerful 7 year old who lives in the Sacramento Valley. Through a mutual friend, I found out that Elizabeth and I both share a love for cooking and eating good food.  So, during a recent trip to the Bay Area, I set out to meet Elizabeth and her family at the new Benioff Children’s hospital in San Francisco.

The Sunday afternoon that we met, we set out to bake something special for Elizabeth’s family. The good people at the Ronald MacDonald House gave us free rein of their brand new kitchen. We took full advantage of their hospitality and made a sweet batch of peach-blackberry cobbler. Elizabeth picked up quickly as we moved through the recipe.  She makes a great sous chef; she is attentive, knows how to follow directions and laughs at my silly jokes.


This cooking session at the Ronald MacDonald House was a little respite for Elizabeth.  For the past several months she has been spending a lot of time at the hospital seeking treatment for an inoperable brain tumor. Being able to cook something together was a nice distraction from her normal routine.

Elizabeth bakes Chocolate Chunk Cookies
I so enjoyed Elizabeth’s sense of gratitude and uplifting spirit. As a thank you, I sent her an embroidered chef jacket so she could be the top chef anytime she wanted.  Today, I received a photo of Elizabeth making chocolate chunk coconut cookies.  She made the cookies for one of her doctors.  She did let me know that she wanted to send me some, but knew that I was traveling on the road.  


Looking forward to tasting them next time, Elizabeth.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

HERITAGE FOODS INTERVIEW - The Most Famous Anonymous Person

I enjoyed this interview with Brian Reno who represents Heritage Foods. We discussed why the position of White House executive chef requires you to be the most famous anonymous person in the world.


Voice Recorder >>
You may also listen to the 11 minute interview here

Confessions of a Former White House Chef - Part Two by Hillary Pollack

Munchies, a website and digital video channel featured the following article written by Hillary Pollack.  Confessions of a Former White House Chef

MUNCHIES: You're often asked about the diets of Presidents, but what are your favorite types of foods?
Walter Scheib: It's like saying, "What's your favorite song?"  Well, everyone has a thousand favorite songs.  It depends on what mood you're in, what's going on.  I like full-flavored, spicy foods, and I like foods that have a certain degree of flavor complexity without being overworked.  I love Thai and Ethiopian, but I also love a really great cheeseburger.  It's not really about what it is, but how it's executed.  Probably the greatest flavor you can have is to go into your backyard in August and pick a tomato off the vine that's bursting with August sunshine, take a bite out of it, sprinkle some salt and pepper in the bite mark, and keep eating it like an apple. 

I don't like people who are faking it.  In my estimate, and this will be a little bit controversial I suspect, the whole concept of this fad—and I use the word "fad advisedly—of molecular gastronomy, it could not go away fast enough.  This is the emperor's new clothes of cuisine.  It's some guy who decided, I'm going to make food with chemicals. I don't care for that.  I also don't care for foods that are gringo-ized, Americanized to the masses until it's no longer authentic.  I like things that taste as close as they would as if you were in the country that they were being made in originally. 

Who were you most honored to have cooked for?
When you're working for the President and the First Lady, it's hard to get starstruck.  You're working directly, on a first-name basis, with the two most powerful people on Earth.  You've seen that Bill Clinton is a tremendously charismatic human being, and Bush also was, in his own way.  So when you're around these folks, they're kind of the alpha males.  And their wives were as charismatic, as powerful, and just as bright as they are.  Obviously, the people coming through the White House are like a "who's who" of the world.  World leaders, business people, musicians, athletes.  People who had been of service to the country in small ways, people who were released hostages.

Some of the most moving cases were the families of the people who went down in the planes on 9/11.  And young children who were terminally ill would come, who were aware of their situation but were still so full of life and so affirming to everyone, to see how brave they could be.  I got to see a lot of truly amazing things. 


What was your approach to cooking for such varied world leaders who were from places with completely different cuisines?
American cuisine has representation from literally every culture on Earth, so this is what we'd do for State Dinners.  Usually the menu would be four courses—three savory and then a dessert.  We'd always try, the first course, to do some take on the ethnic overtone from that guest's country—a cooking technique, flavor combination, or ingredient.  Not in an authentic way, but an Americanized interpretation of that cuisine.  This allowed the First Lady to then say something like, "Your people are part of our people, our people are part of your people.  Your culture is part of our culture."  It was a good icebreaker and was a way to get the evening off on the right foot. 

Were people generally on good behavior at these events or would they sometimes get wild?
Well...we won't talk about that.  That's sort of family business.  If they care to talk about that, that's their prerogative.  But it's the White House.  You don't act a fool at the White House if you can avoid it. 


You may read the rest of the article here. 


Monday, February 9, 2015

Confessions of a Former White House Chef - Part One by Hilary Pollack

Munchies, a website and digital video channel featured the following article written by Hillary Pollack.  Here's part one of two articles titled:  Confessions of a Former White House Chef

MUNCHIES: It’s been ten years since you worked in the White House, but you've kept very busy since. What do you miss about working there, and what are you glad to be done with?
Walter Scheib: When you work at the White House, you’re working at what we used to call “White House flex time,” which means you get to choose any 85 hours you want to work each week, and the rest of your free time is yours. [laughs] I don’t miss that component, but what I do miss is being in the White House. I miss getting to service the First Family in that way and to the country, you get that honor and that privilege of getting to know the President and his family— not as the cartoon characters you see on the nightly news, but as the nuanced and very real and interesting people. Secondly, the camaraderie of the team—of all 90 employees in the residence—really are a distinct and unique group of individuals, not only in their particular expertise and the talents that they have, but more importantly, their understanding of the heart of service of working for this family. You basically become anonymous—you check your ego and your politics at the door and you’re only there to give the First Family an island of sanity in a very crazy world. It takes a unique temperament to be able to do that for an extended period of time.

Do you miss it, or are you relieved that your life is less stressful now?
Well, last year I did 85 events and was on the road for 300 days a year, as there is a tremendous interest in hearing humorous and humanizing stories about the two First Families. It really is a word-of-mouth business; the more you do, the more you do. I thought that after a year or two the novelty would wear off, but it’s been proven that each year it actually gets more busy than the previous. Of course, with Secretary/Senator Mrs. Clinton running for president and being, at the very least, a favored candidate to be in the big race, that of course will increase interest that much more.

It’s known that she’s a huge fan of yours, and personally chose you for the role of chef while she was the First Lady. Do you think you could be called back into service if she succeeds?
Well, I mean, of course if the President asks you to be of service to the country, you’d be hard-pressed to say no. If she wants me, she knows my phone number and I’ll be of service. I don’t care if it was a Republican or Democrat, if I knew them or didn't know them—if the President asked me to serve, I would do it.

It would probably be a lot different now since Bill is basically a vegan.
Well, that's the urban myth.  I don't know that that's true.  If you're trying to keep a fairly austere regimen—and veganism is that in my estimate—it's very difficult to do.  I think you have to present that you're doing it full-time and taking it seriously so that you don't get presented with things by chefs that you would be tempted by.  I know a number of chefs that have served the former President over the years.  While he trends towards veganism and vegetarianism, it isn't totally exclusive.  We'll just put it that way. 


You may read the rest of the article here



Friday, December 12, 2014

SAM KASS HANGS UP HIS APRON

POLITICO Pro featured an article on Sam Kass which details his upcoming leave.  Journalist Helena Bottemiller Evich writes:

When Sam Kass leaves Washington after six years as a high-energy — and, at times, divisive — White House Chef, his successor probably won't inherit three titles, two offices and an extraordinary bond with the first family.  But his replacement will still need to be ready for a political fight.

The Obama administration is set to lose its behind-the-scenes food policy general at the end of the month, right as a Republican Congress plans an assault on much of first lady Michelle Obama's healthy eating agenda.  

Kass isn't just the most powerful White House chef in history, he has turned his gig into a political juggernaut, driving the administration's aggressive food platform, from school lunch reform to mandatory nationwide calorie labeling and banning trans fat.  But Republicans see much of that agenda as nanny-state overreach that needs to be reined in — and they are about to pull hard.

Already this week, Republicans scored a modest win by getting language into the year-end spending bill that looens requirements for whole grains in meals for struggling schools and freezes current sodium limits, but it's just the opening salvo in a long war to come when the GOP takes control of the Senate.

Republicans have their eyes on relaxing the standards when the law is up for reauthorization next year and undoing some of the calorie labeling rules set to hit restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores and vending machines.

Kass has long led the administration's policy offense and the political defense, but he announced Monday his is moving to New York City to be with his wife, New York-based MSNBC host Alex Wagner, whom he married in Augues.  Monay now wonder who, if anyone, could fill the unique position he held. 

"Over the years, Sam has grown from a close friend to a critical member of my team," said President Barack Obama when the White House announced Kass' departure.

Now when people think of the White House chef, the vision goes beyond someone who cooks grand State Dinners for kings and presidents to someone who tells us to eat our spinach and reminds us how much sugar is in our Lucky Charms.  Kass' work showed that virtually nothing is beyond politics naymore in Washington — even the guy who cooks the president dinner.  (While Kass cooked for the first family, executive chef Cristeta Comerford, who has held that post since 2005, handled formal White House entertaining.)

"From constructing our Kitchen Garden to brewing our own Honey Brown Ale, Sam has left an indelible mark on the White House," Obama said.

Walter Scheib, who served as executive chef at the White House for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush adminstrations, said he could not recall a chef even close to as involved in policy as Kass is, but the quickly noted there hasn't been a first lady so interested in food policy, either.

The position "has become politicized, he said.  "But the position of the chef at the White House is a reflection of what's already going on in the country.  There's a lot more awareness of food now than there's ever been."  Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton cared deeply about healthy eating, he said, they just weren't nearly as vocal and public about it. 

Please continue the article here on the Politico.com website. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"UPON CLOSER INSPECTION"...Simply Amazing Art

Photography by Kiyomi
On a rare occasion in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent time cooking and chatting with some new friends during a small dinner party.  My friends, who are art enthusiasts, have carefully adorned their home with incredible works of art.  While I was cooking in the kitchen, I could not help but admire the 2 foot silver rooster that sat in the center island.  What intrigued me the most about this piece is that it is made up of stainless steel forks, spoons, and knives.
Photo by Kiyomi

The piece in my friend's kitchen caused me to be curious about the medium.  I discovered that flatware actually is  not an uncommon element to be featured in artwork.  However, very few artists have learned to master the welding of utensils into true pieces of art.

I found one artist named Gary Hovey.  Since 2004, Gary has been using his welding skills to transform ordinary flatware into stunning metal animal sculptures.  Gary explains, "It is my goal that the animal's appearance is appreciated first for its form. Then, on closer inspection, the details of the forks, knives, and spoons bring enjoyment on a whole new level.  I like to incorporate movement, 'attitude' and when possible, a story."

Courtesy of Gary Hovey
Gary Hovey's own personal story is quite amazing.  He started his art career ten years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. You might think that the physical demands of welding would prevent him from tackling this form of art.  But Gary describes his art is actually being therapeutic.

Courtesy of Gary Hove;y
Today Gary says, "I continue to push to work and it takes work to do anything from moving my hands to walking.  There are a lot of things I would like to do that freedom of movement and lack of energy do not permit.  I am thankful that I have been able to continue to make sculptures."

Courtesy of Gary Hovey
I am thankful for Gary as well.  It is inspiring to see how he is able to navigate past the day to day pain to continue his creative endeavor.  In addition, his sense of gratitude is humbling and his artwork is truly remarkable.

Please visit Gary's website at hoveyware.com.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

MODI COMES TO THE WHITE HOUSE - The Wall Street Journal

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

By COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON and 
NIHARIKA MANDHANA
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.
To continue this story - please click here.
Getty Images