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

Saturday, December 7, 2013


It is a time for deep mourning as South Africa makes its preparations for statesman and anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela. I was saddened to hear of his passing this last week. I fondly remember Mandela as being a unique and transcendent man.

On a cool autumn evening in October of 1994, I had the privilege of preparing and serving Mr. Mandela his first state dinner. It was a very exciting time for me and the entire staff as we served dinner in the East Room.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mandela.

The following is actual footage of Nelson's Mandela's visit in 1994.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


(CNN) - Bill Clinton and Al Gore were on the 1992 Democratic ticket. But 21 years later, you might say the Clinton/Gore theme song has gone from Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow to don't stop thinking about tofurkey.

They have gone from Southern fried to southern fennel, from serving up political red meat to serving up no meat, no fish and no dairy.

According to Forbes magazine, Al Gore has joined his running mate, becoming a vegan a couple of months ago.

"It's like playing the piano and deciding one day, ‘Well, I'm only going to use the white keys now. I'm not going to use the black and the white keys.' It does take a little bit of time to actually get used to it," White House Chef Walter Scheib said. He served as chef for 11 years, cooking up meals for President Clinton back when he and his VP had broader dietary ranges.

"President Clinton was a little bit more diverse in his dining," he said. "That's sort of a euphemism saying he ate pretty much everything, his diet probably not the best."

Clinton described his updated diet to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in 2011.

"I like the stuff I eat, the vegetables, the fruits, the beans, the stuff I eat now I like," he said.
But the vegan lifestyle isn't as new to the Clinton/Gore ticket as you might think. 

"Chelsea Clinton became a vegan or very close to a vegan," Scheib said. "She'll tell you that she didn't, but I was actually there with her, and she was actually a vegan by the time she reached her senior year of high school. And she came down and worked in our kitchen at the White House the summer of her senior year for a couple of weeks."

It is a far cry from the fast food and short shorts that were such an indelible presence on her father's campaign in 1992.

In this week of gleeful national gluttony, it is important to note that U.S. high-level leadership has, for the most part, adopted high-level nutrition.

"They say diplomacy is a matter of carrots and sticks, and since Mrs. Obama got to the White House, so is dinner," Jimmy Kimmel said.

"Food at the White House didn't delineate along political lines," Scheib said. "It delineated very much along gender lines."

Sure, he might sneak into 5 Guys for a burger every once in a while, but it does seem President Obama is mostly toeing the line.

George W. Bush, with all his working out, always seemed fit. The only food that gave him trouble? The pretzel that he choked on.

The menu in the White House has always been a bit fickle. George H. W. Bush hated broccoli. Ronald Reagan loved his jelly beans. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer.

"We try to keep them on the straight and narrow on terms of a healthy diet, but he is the president and he eats what he chooses to eat," Scheib said.

Copyright 2013 CNN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Almost scarier than things that go boo during Halloween is the article I just finished reading about the deconstruction of chicken nuggets.  "Mechanically separated chicken" and "Associated supportive tissue" are phrases that can easily give rise to a bit of consumer fear.  Thankfully, however, there are a few non-profit groups that are helping to navigate some of the rising concerns in the marketplace. 

The Center for Food Integrity was designed to build trust and confidence between consumers and food companies.  Recently, I was asked to participate in the CFI 2013 Food Integrity Summit where presenters gave solutions for transparency in the food system and tackling global hunger. During the conference, CFI unveiled its 2013 Consumer Trust in the Food System Research.  The research highlights 7 key attributes needed to develop and maintain consumer trust.  For instance, listed under the Motivation tab is:  When making decisions, the company takes public interest into consideration rather than only considering profit. And, under Credibility:  The company is willing to take responsibility when it makes a mistake.
During the month of November, CFI will be presenting 3 webinars:

November 1 - Breaking Through Consumer Skepticism (1-2 pm CDT).
November 8 - Millennials and Food Information - What They Want and Where They Get It (1-2 pm CDT).
November 15 - Consumers on the Animal Ag - The Trends and Tipping Points (1-2 pm CDT).
The webinars are free of charge, but require registration.  You can do that through the links found here. 

Monday, October 7, 2013


Frieda Rapoport Caplan may not be a household name, but she has played a key role in introducing unusual and exotic produce in your local grocery store. Frieda is most well known for introducing kiwifruit to the U.S. She is the founder of Frieda's Specialty Produce in Southern California.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting her daughter Karen Caplan who is now the president and CEO of Frieda's, Inc. at dinner that took place in D.C. Karen is also the writer behind the blog called What's On Karen's Plate. She sent me the link to her recent blog entry. 

This week was an interesting one to be in Washington D.C. I was there as part of the produce industry's annual Public Policy Conference, and of course we had visits scheduled with our elected congresspersons. But, many were cancelled as part of the government shutdown. 

As it turns out, the highlight of the week was a special dinner at the Newseum the official Museum of Journalism, and I have written about it here before

On Monday evening, I was invited to a dinner prepared and narrated by Chef Walter Scheib, who was the White House Executive Chef from 1994-2005. He served both the Clinton and George W. Bush families and had more than a few funny stories to share. You can see the four course dinner we enjoyed on this personalized menu.
Since I am a part time (90%) vegan, it was fun to hear about the first course, Red Curried Sweet Potato Soup, which the chef created when Chelsea Clinton went vegan in high school. And to learn that Britain's Tony Blair suggested that the chef add "a piece of halibut" to the soup to make it a main course meal was so interesting.
Red Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Halibut
The third course (the salad), was created when President George W. Bush told the chef that he didn't like anything green (much to the chagrin of the first lady, Laura Bush), so the "salad" was a tamale tart (aka a quiche), on top of slices avocado, orange and sweet onion. 

The chef has an interesting personal story, starting with flunking out of college. He learned his love of cooking from his mother, and as a fluke, applied to the CIA (The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY), and was a last minute acceptance to his class. Not a surprise to me, he finished at the top of his class. And how did he end up as the White House Executive Chef? He sent out his resume, along with more than 2,000 other chefs, but it turns out it was his persistence and a follow-up phone call to the office of the White House Usher that got got him an audience with the First Lady and her "Kitchen Cabinet" who chose the chef. 

My daughter Alex and almost 200 other guests enjoyed the dinner and the fun anecdotal stories the chef shared about his experience at the White House. He told a few stories before each course, shared his inspiration for each recipe, and then eight servers magically appeared from the kitchen and served each course in a synchronized fashion. 

When he stopped by our table, between one of the courses, I asked him about the synchronized serving. He told me that was one of the techniques he perfected while at the White House.  It was so nice to personally meet the chef when he stopped by our table. So, dinner with Chef Walter Scheib has once again inspired me to cook and entertain more, maybe not with the style and flourish of the former White House Executive Chef, but I will have to think up some fun stories to tell before my dinners.
My daughter Alex, Chef Scheib and me.
Bon Apetit! Karen

Monday, September 16, 2013


Pinehurst is a buzzword for serious golfers right now.  The No. 2 course is the landmark location for the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open which will be played during the month of June.  The North Carolina event marks the first time that the two national championships will be held on the same course in back to back weeks.  Golfers, vacation seekers, wedding planners, wine enthusiasts and locavores are clamoring after all things Pinehurst.

During a recent visit to Pinehurst, I got a chance to spy the famous greens.  However, I didn't play, particularly since I'm more comfortable with a fishing rod in my hand than I am with a 5 iron.  One thing I did get to do was take part in the 25th annual wine festival - a spectacular event that featured over 80 wineries as well as a host of chef and wine experts.  The theme was called "A Passport to the World." Guests were treated to summer crop flavors and wine seminars which included, "The American Grand Crus of Napa and Sonoma" and "South Africa: The Cape Crusaders".

The silver anniversary festival ended with a battle of the house Iron Chef Competition where I was one of three judges.  The secret ingredient was tomatoes.  As a former competitor for Iron Chef America, I have to confess this time around I was so much more at ease being on the other side of the table than I was in the pressure cooker.  For any chef battling it out in the kitchen stadium it can be a stress racking 75 minutes.  Both executive chef (Dolce) Steven Queen and Chef de Cuisine (Pinehurst) William "Jay" Hunter did extraordinarily well.  The Iron Chef was a great way to close the festival.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Pinehurst lines up for next year.