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