Thursday, January 07, 2010

Executive Chef Cris Comerford On Iron Chefs And Healthy Eating

On January 9, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford would continue in her position as Top Toque after the inauguration. Since then, it's been an incredibly busy year of food activity at the White House. In her first official White House blog post, Chef Comerford describes the inspiration she's gotten from Mrs. Obama, and explains why fresh and local foods are important. She also dishes on her experience cooking with chef Bobby Flay, on the White House edition of Iron Chef America.

Chef Comerford writes:

This past Sunday, I gathered my family around me and together we watched the Food Network's "Iron Chef America." I never imagined myself in Kitchen Stadium and couldn't help but laugh as my daughter pointed me out on TV. It was such an honor to participate in the "Iron Chef" competition. I had the privilege of working with great chefs to prepare healthy dishes using fantastic local, sustainable ingredients.

But as impressed as I was with Kitchen Stadium, I don't know if it quite compares with the awe that Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and even Alton Brown felt while visiting the White House, meeting the First Lady and working in the White House Kitchen Garden. The chefs were all surprised when Mrs. Obama revealed that the "Secret Ingredient" was the White House Kitchen Garden and that our challenge was to create meals that were fresh, healthy and uniquely American – we knew we had our work cut out for us!

The White House Kitchen Garden is a perfect example of how easy it is to grow your own fresh fruits and vegetables. It costs less than $200 to plant the garden and in the past few months it has already yielded over 1,000 pounds of produce. We use this fresh produce in meals for the First Family, in dinners for foreign leaders and we donate a good portion of it to Miriam’s Kitchen, a nearby soup kitchen. The garden is a constant reminder for me that fresh fruits and vegetables really do taste better! (Above: Comerford and assistant chefs Susie Morrison and David Luerson work in the Kitchen Garden with visiting kids)

For this competition, I had the good fortune of teaming up with Bobby Flay – who is a White House veteran. He joined our team here at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last year for a Father’s Day event to help the President barbeque for a group of young men who had joined us from local schools to discuss the importance of being good fathers and good role models.

Because this competition was about fresh fruits and vegetables, but also about the American experience, Chef Flay and I decided to cook to our strengths and to our heritages. To highlight the diversity of culinary traditions and flavors that define our country, Chef Flay cooked with his southwestern flair, I brought in recipes from my native Philippines, and we blended it all with unique takes on classic American recipes. The other team was made up of Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. These formidable opponents cooked amazing dishes reflecting their own styles and backgrounds!

The competition was close, and each team created delicious meals in a short amount of time and I am thrilled that Chef Flay and I were chosen as the winners.

As great as the honor it was to compete in Kitchen Stadium with such creative and talented chefs, the greatest honor is still coming to work every day, walking through the White House gates and serving my country by serving the healthiest, freshest food we can provide for the First Family and their guests. Mrs. Obama's challenge to use fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy way wasn't just for "Iron Chef." It's a challenge that we should all try to meet in our daily lives – whether it’s cooking for ourselves, our friends or our children.

Related: Iron Chef America recipes: Sweet Potato Pie (made on the show) is here. Cauliflower Gratin (made on the show) and Kitchen Garden Herb Roasted Chicken are here. A full recap of the competition is here. A video of the judges' table is here. The show got the highest ratings ever in Food Network's history. Bobby Flay was a guest chef at the White House in June; watch a video of him grilling with President Obama here. UPDATE, Jan. 13: The issue of the use of Stunt Vegetables is rocking the Internet.

*Garden photo by Obama Foodorama. Photo at top of post is Comerford and the Iron Chef America cast, courtesy of Food Network.