Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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.