The recent election has caused a flurry of interest in "all things White House." Along with the President-Elect's choice of cabinet members, the media has also assumed that the new administration will do some house cleaning in the kitchen. This assumption paints a foolhardy picture of what may actually occur. The current Executive WH Chef is Cristeta Comerford who is a fine professional. She has done a great job and would most likely stay on with the new first family.
As of late, I have received numerous media requests to comment on the proposed Obama kitchen. Here is an recent excerpt from the Baltimore Sun by Rob Kasper that deals with this issue:
Former interview with Liam Mayclem
Scheib grew up in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and spent a year at the University of Maryland before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. He left the White House after clashing with Laura Bush's social secretary, an issue detailed in White House Chef, which he wrote with Andrew Freidman.
Now he runs The American Chef, a Virginia-based catering company, and is a consultant to Hershey Entertainment & Resorts in Pennsylvania.
Cristeta Comeford, whom he hired as an assistant chef, is the current White House executive chef.
Barack Obama told the Associated Press that his favorite food is chili. Other reported Obama family favorite foods from Chicago restaurants are barbecue chicken pizza from Pizza Capri, Caribbean food from Calypso Cafe and Mexican fare from Topolobampo. Will these dishes immediately show up on the White House menu?
My experience is that a president is not always totally candid when it comes to answering the "favorite food" question. He knows he had better be careful, because if he says his favorite food is chili, then everywhere he goes he will end up being fed chili.
When a new first family moves into the White House, how does the chef figure out what to feed them?
Inauguration Day is strange. The outgoing family leaves by 10 in the morning, and the new first family comes in at 2 in the afternoon. So you cook for two first families in one day.
At some time during the transition the White House usher sits down with the first lady or someone close to the family and finds out their personal preferences, their likes and dislikes for all kinds of everyday things. As their family cook, you start with a safe menu, and work out from there.
Then there is the low-tech approach. You look at plates as they come back into the kitchen. If you are sending out carrots and a lot of carrots are coming back, or if you are sending out a salad with frisee and it is coming back, then you take those dishes off your menu.
You draw up a week's worth of menus, and submit them for approval on Tuesday for the meals that are going to start on Sunday. It is a rough draft, listing all the items on breakfast, lunch and dinner and the nutritional readouts. You work for the first lady and I have learned that, as in most families, if Mama is happy, everybody is happy.
The Obamas have two daughters, 10 and 7. Does the menu change when the first family has young children?
Somewhat. Chelsea Clinton was 12 when her family first moved in. At that age she had a very narrow idea of what she wanted to eat. Two of her favorites then were grilled chicken breast with lemon pasta and broccoli, and macaroni and cheese. She was very clear that it had to be Kraft macaroni and cheese from a blue box. We couldn't deviate.
Later, when she got ready to go away to college at Stanford, she began eating a vegetarian diet and developed a taste for the cuisine of South Asia and India. At her mother's request I gave Chelsea some cooking lessons. Her Thai-spiced sweet potato soup with gingered bok choy is in my book.
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