Wednesday, November 04, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Graces Season Premiere of Iron Chef America; Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford Will Compete

Another first from the Obama White House Kitchen...First Lady reveals "secret ingredient"
UPDATES at bottom of post
First Lady Michelle Obama will make a special appearance on the season premiere of the popular Food Network show
Iron Chef America in January, in a savvy move to extend her healthy food messaging to a new audience. Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford will compete on the show in a special two hour "super chef battle." Comerford's teammate is grill master Bobby Flay, who guest-cheffed at the White House for the Father's Day event in June, when he cooked up some lovely steaks with President Obama. Spoiler alert: Mrs. Obama will be revealing the "secret ingredient" that the chefs will use in their televised cook-off, which is a hallmark of the Iron Chef America series.

The "secret ingredient" in this case is anything that grows in the White House Kitchen Garden, which leaves things wiiiide open, because the Kitchen Garden has produced a stunning variety of crops this year. Comerford and Flay are competing against the highly competitive team of celeb chefs Emeril Lagasse, who specializes in Southern/New Orleans cooking, and Mario Batali, an Italian cooking superstar. (Above: Mrs. Obama flanked by, from left, Flay, Comerford and show host Alton Brown; Batali is in the crocs, his signature shoe, and Lagasse is on right)

Scenes for the show were already shot at the White House, with Comerford and the three other chefs harvesting crops from the Kitchen Garden, and Mrs. Obama having brief face-time with the guest chefs. The show's January airdate is timed perfectly to be right before Congress comes back into session, when legislators will ostensibly be addressing the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which provides federal funding for school feeding programs. Better school lunches are one of Mrs. Obama's priorities, and President Obama's too; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack frequently notes in his public remarks that this was the very first subject President Obama discussed with him during their "job interview." (Above: Comerford in the Kitchen Garden during the Iron Chef America filming, harvesting with teammate Flay)

The chefs reunited in New York in the Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium, the stage set where the competition part of the show is filmed, about a week after the harvest. In addition to the "secret ingredient" of White House Kitchen Garden veggies, the chefs were given a panoply of locally sourced and sustainably managed foods to work with, including heritage turkeys, quail, pork, seafood, and dairy products. Stand-in organic veggies were used for the actual filming, with White House vegetables being donated to a food bank, due to the time-gap between filming and the White House visit. Guest judges for the competition part of the episode were cookbook author/chef Nigella Lawson, actress Jane Seymour, and Olympic swimming champ Natalie Coughlin.

The Iron Chef America appearance for Comerford is the first cooking show appearance from the White House, and follows her appearance on The Biggest Loser. For that show, Comerford made a healthy salad with the cast, but Sam Kass managed the Kitchen Garden veggie harvesting. While she was Executive Chef for former First Lady Laura Bush, Comerford made a few network TV appearances on morning television shows, too. The show will air on January 3, 2010 on the Food Network.

Related: White House Iron Chef America recipes are here. More on Mrs. Obama and Chef Comerford's star turns are here (with video) and here. Watch Flay and President Obama grilling together at the White House here. Food Network has video clips from the episode here, which aren't available for embedding on other websites. UPDATED Jan. 4: Comerford and Flay win the battle. Chef Comerford blogs about her experience on the show, and her inspiration from Mrs. Obama, here. The recipe for the winning dessert from Team White House: Sweet Potato Pie. The White House also released two other recipes to accompany the program, including Cauliflower Gratin, which was one of Team White House's winning dishes. UPDATE, Jan. 13: The issue of the use of Stunt Vegetables on the show, rather than actual White House vegetables during the cooking competition segment, is rocking the Internet. UPDATE 2: Stunt vegetables turns into a huge issue on the internet, and makes it onto television: Here's a clip from Fox News, and Stephen Colbert does a send up of the nonsense here.