While speculation runs rampant about nearly everything that our new incoming President may or may not do during his first weeks in office, one of the more lightweight bits of fodder for discussion ( along with topics such as fashion, choice of schools, dinner patterns, etc ) regards who it will be that will be appointed White House Executive Chef. Some say that Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, the current holder of that title, should remain in the position.
Ms. Comerford was born in the Phillippines and was appointed to her post by First Lady Laura Bush in 2005. She is the first women to hold that position, so she, like Mr. Obama, has made history.
Others would like to see a celebrity chef or TV chef in that role, but those in the know regarding the demanding nature of the job do not agree that this is the right type of personality for the job. Former White house executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier ( responsible for 25 years of fanastic Christmas Gingerbread houses and showstopper desserts for countless state dinners ) was quoted as saying with typical Gaillic confidence: ” Celebrity chefs, in my book, are not chefs. They are entertainers- all of these TV people - forget it ! “
I for one think that this job would be nothing short of overwhelming, albeit a rare opportunity for an exceptional someone to rise to the most challenging job of their lifetime. This job requires someone not motivated by celebrity ( no offense, but celebrities are not celebrities because they wish to remain unknown or be second-in-command ) and in fact, most of us tax payers never know who the White House Executive Chef is or what their credentials are or how they came by the job.
The position of White House Executive Chef requires someone who has the drive to perform ‘duty and service to country’ by running the most important kitchen and dinner room in the nation with grace and style. And by serving delicious, exquisitely cooked food to heads of state and other important guests of the White House. Let’s face us - many world leaders and dignitaries visiting the White House hail from countries much more food obsessed than we are, so this is not place to cost-cut in the White House.
Accordingly, the White House chef is also responsible for creating the menus for all state dinners, holiday functions, receptions and official luncheons. Which means having a firm grasp on seasonal dishes, food sourcing, the basic elements of many foreign cuisines, and the food likes and dislikes of important guests. The job also requires feeding and tending to the First Family, which only lends another layer of complexity to all that must be juggled.
Some have suggested that there be a different high-profile chef hired for each state dinner. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if a different personality was inserted into the well-oiled mechanics of the White House kitchen on a regular basis ? It’s a fun idea, but hardly a practical one. (For those who like that idea, let me point out that this is the forte of the James Beard House in NYC. Here, celebrity chefs from around the country fly in with their particular regional foods and ingredients and their entourage of chefs ( and at their own expense ) to cook dinners for a priviledged small group of diners nearly evey night of the year. Seating is open to members and non-members of the James Beard House and the experience is sheer foodie-heaven. Visit www.jamesbeard.org for more details. )
It will be interesting to see who will carry the exhaulted title of Executive Chef into the new administration. I am rooting for Cristeta Comerford to remain in the job. My wish for her is that she has the opportunity to stay on in an Obama White House and that it will be a time for national pride in showcasing the best of American meats, cheeses, wines and regional dishes.
May she, like the President Elect, bring an extra sparkle to the elegant, well-appointed White House dinner tables.