At the Healthy Kids Fair on Wednesday, the White House Chefs were having as much fun demonstrating delish, nutrish recipes to visiting local school kids as First Lady Michelle Obama was having hula hooping on global television.
The chefs, including Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass, Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, and pastry assistant Susie Morrison, were handing out bite-size bits of the demo dishes, and fielding a lot of innocent questions about the ingredients, which were arrayed on tables in a series of outdoor kitchen stations set up on the South Lawn. (Above: From L, Morrison, Yosses, Mrs. Obama, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, Comerford, and Kass)
Of course, many of the questions the chefs and Mrs. Obama were asked had to do with what President Obama eats, and what his favorite food is--a topic that even adults loooove to broach.
"The President eats very healthy food," Comerford informed one little boy, who kept repeating the question.
"But what, what?" The child demanded.
"Salad, steamed vegetables--" Comerford said.
"No, his one favorite!" The child said, and then his adult chaperone interjected and tried to get a word in. The child would not be deterred.
"I need to know what's President Obama's favorite food so I can be the president, too!" The savvy child said.
The White House food messaging is certainly working; the boy had instantly made the connection between eating right (left?) and success. No firm answer was tossed in the child's direction, however. Instead, he was offered a little plastic cup with White House Baked Apple Slices in it. He had seconds. (Above: Comerford talks to a child reporter from Scholastic News)
No, seriously, what was your worst White House kitchen disaster?
Yosses created the Baked Apple recipe, and he was joined in the demo'ing by Morrison. Ob Fo briefly discussed children's nutrition initiatives with Morrison, but then veered wildly off topic, similar to the "fave food" questioners, and started grilling Morrison about Ghosts of State Dinners past.
Morrison has been at the White House for eleven years, which means she worked with the legendary former Exec Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier, the masterful Euro-trained buttermeister who commandeered the sweet side of the White House Kitchen for a quarter of a century. And Morrison also worked with ormer Exec Pastry Chef Thaddeus DuBois, who lasted less than a year with former First Lady Laura Bush before Yosses replaced him. The first State Dinner at the White House is next month, and it's already the subject of much speculation about everything from wine lists to entrees to Morrison's area of expertise, desserts. Morrison laughed a lot while she was being peppered with questions...but ducked most of them, so let's go back to the Baked Apples and save those details for another post. (Above: Morrison, and Yosses in the background)
Yosses explained the ideology behind the Baked Apples.
"We wanted simplicity and convenience, and to use ingredients that most people have in the house anyway," Yosses said. "And we wanted ease of preparation so that kids can do it, too."
There are raisins, nuts, sugar, butter, vegetable oil, and rolled oats, honey, apple juice, and spices in the recipe (Above: Ingredients on the outdoor prep table, and a pan of the Baked Apples, newly from the outdoor oven)
"Kids can definitely make this recipe," Morrison added, possibly relieved to be on a subject other than what she's managed to set on fire in the White House kitchen.
"A few kids just told me that their moms make things like this at home," Morrison said.
She added that the apples in the demo were Honey Crisps, a local apple that's grown widely in Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania is considered "local" to DC, for all you strict locavore readers).
"You can also use a very sour apple, for a different flavor," Morrison said. "Bill picked the Honey Crisps--a good choice, they held up very well--kept their shape."
"Any kind of dried fruit works in the recipe," Yosses added. "It doesn't have to be raisins. Apricots or blueberries are good, for something different."
Both Yosses and Morrison said they appreciate all the focus on children's nutrition and healthy cooking that's been going on in the Obama White House kitchen. (Above: A detail of the Baked Apples; the 'official' recipe calls for slicing, but these came out of the oven whole)
"It's just great," Yosses said. "As Mrs. Obama pointed out, so many of the health problems of today can be related to diet, so we're so happy to be able to help people eat better."
Mrs. Bush, who selected Yosses to be her Executive Pastry Chef, also hosted children in her kitchen. But these events were not overly publicized, because Mrs. Bush didn't have a high-profile food agenda, like Mrs. Obama.
"It's difficult to compare what went on then with what's going on now, " Yosses said. "Let's just celebrate healthy eating."
Okay. Honey from the White House Beehive was used in the Baked Apple recipe, and the big jar of it that was sitting on the demo table attracted a lot of attention (in photo). Kids were staring at it raptly, trying to pick it up, and of course asking that much-disputed question--how much honey has the White House Beehive actually produced? No one seems to have a clear answer. (Above: A mason jar of White House Honey)
Anyway, the Baked Apples were delish, and Morrison's suggestion about using Granny Smiths was spot on. Your intrepid blogger tested the recipe in the privacy of the Ob Fo Faux White House Test Kitchen, and Morrison's right--Granny Smiths are swell, and it's a super easy recipe. One apple did catch on fire during the cooking, but that was due to the one dodgy broiler that tends to overheat, rather than the fact that the recipe came from the real White House Kitchen. So here's the recipe for your own healthy eating experience: Click the photo, below, to blow it up, and you can read the recipe.
...And you can also see the cute little White House graphic. The charming printed recipe cards were available at each cooking station, and adults were scooping them up by the handful.
*Side Notes: Guest chefs at the event included Koren Grieveson of Chicago's Avec restaurant and Todd Gray of DC's Equinox, and Food Network's Ellie Krieger.
Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass worked at Chicago's Avec before he went to work for the Obamas. Grieveson was briefly on the short list for fantasy White House Chef, back in the "good old days" post-election and pre-inauguration. Chef Todd Gray's Equinox was the first Obama date night restaurant in DC. Natch, it uses local, organic and sustainably sourced foods.
Related: The Healthy Kids Fair was top-loaded with policy initiatives although Mrs. Obama's hula hooping got more headlines than her food policy; the latest post on White House Honey is here.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/ObamaFoodorama.com