"Being a Pinoy at the White House, Filipino values and traits are innate in me"
White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford is the cover story for the Christmas issue of The Asian Journal's MDMK Magazine. The nation-wide publication is an online and print "community newspaper" for Filipino-Americans, with a weekly magazine, and Comerford graces the covers of the Los Angeles and New York editions.
Comerford's debut as cover girl is part of the building media onslaught for her January 3, 2010 appearance on Iron Chef America, where she'll be joined by First Lady Michelle Obama during a brief segment shot at the White House, before doing culinary team battle with chef Bobby Flay, against chefs Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse.
It's the first cover salvo for Comerford. Unlike Mrs. Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator, Sam Kass--who has had profile pieces in the New York Times, Men's Health, and the Chicago Sun-Times-- Comerford has not been the subject of big media stories.
But the Food Network is promoting Iron Chef America heavily, with a series of video previews, and Comerford will possibly attain household name status after the two-hour supersized chef battle airs. It should be noted that Comerford is already a household name in the Philippines, and a national heroine, as an ex-pat who's risen to the highest stratospheres of American achievement. Oddly, however, The Asian Journal re-printed recipes to accompany the Comerford story that she created while Top Toque for First Lady Laura Bush, rather than any Obama-era White House recipes. The cover story that appeared is re-printed below, for the record. In Filipino media, Comerford is always referred to with her maiden name, "Pasia" included, as well as her full name, Cristeta, rather than the Anglicized "Cris." The story:
White House Executive Chef Cristeta Pasia Comerford - The First Filipina Chef to Feed The First Family
Cristeta Comerford is a master in eating challenges for breakfast. Being in charge of the White House kitchen, the first woman and first Filipina Executive Chef not only plans and prepares the food for the First Family and the never-ending guests at the White House; she also creates menus for state dinners, holiday functions, receptions and official luncheons hosted by the president and first lady. And in the New Year, the world will witness Comerford take on a new and exciting challenge.
Cristeta joins forces with Chef Bobby Flay to battle against popular chefs Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali in a two-hour special episode of Iron Chef America on Food Network, January 3, 2010 entitled Super Chefs Battle. During the recent filming at the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama got in on the fun, challenging the chefs to create a meal for America using only ingredients grown in the White House garden. The judges are a trio of females, chef Nigella Lawson, actress Jane Seymour, and swimmer Natalie Coughlin. For sure, the millions of Filipinos in America will not miss the exciting show and will be rooting for our kababayan in the White House.
The White House Executive Chef since 2005, Cristeta Pasia Comerford was born in Manila in 1962, the second youngest of 11 children. She studied at the Padre Gomez Elementary School in Sta. Cruz, Manila and finished her secondary education at Manila Science High School. She attended the University of the Philippines, majoring in food technology and immigrated to the United States at the age of 23. Her first job was at the Sheraton Hotel (where she worked as a salad girl) in Chicago. She also worked at the Hyatt Regency hotel. After Chicago, she moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as a chef at two restaurants. She additionally spent six months in Vienna as a rotating chef and specializes in ethnic and American cuisine.
Cristeta said she has been well-trained in cooking since she was a young girl. She remembered offering to help her mother cook for their large family. And she has been cooking ever since.
After 2 decades in the food business, Comerford was recruited by executive chef Walter Scheib III in 1995 to work in the Clinton White House. When Scheib resigned as executive chef in February 2005, First Lady Laura Bush appointed Cristeta to take over his position. During his 2008 visit to the Philippines, President George Bush credited his "Philippine-American chef" for her outstanding job. On January 9, 2009, the Obama transition team announced that Comerford would be retained as the administration’s head chef.
"Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family," Michelle Obama said in a statement released by the transition team. "Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families."
What an achievement - to be chosen by the President of the United States of America for a key post within the White House. Former First Lady Laura Bush, who highly recommended Cristeta, said she was delighted that Ms. Comerford had accepted the job. "Her passion for cooking can be tasted in every bite of her delicious creations," Mrs. Bush said.
Known as "Cris" to neighbors and co-workers and "Teta" to her closely knit Filipino family, she lives in Columbia, Maryland, with her husband, John, a chef for a top company, and their daughter, Danielle.
The recipient of many awards, Cristeta was again honored a few months ago with the BPInoy Awards, which honors world-class Filipinos overseas.
"Being a Pinoy at the White House, Filipino values and traits are innate in me. My faith and belief is an integral part of who I am now. It’s always there, always a part of me. Even if I prepare a French classical cuisine, it is Filipino cause I am a Filipino," said Cristeta.
Mabuhay, Cris! You bring honor to your country and your kababayans from around the globe!
*Photos from The Asian Journal