Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Obamas Host The 2010 Governors Ball: The Menu, The Wines, The Details...

Harry Connick, Jr. performs at formal affair, which features traditional American beef and seafood menu...
It was a gala bipartisan affair on Sunday evening when President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the 2010 Governor's Ball at the White House, the first large White House dinner of 2010. The National Governors Association is in Washington for their annual winter meeting, and the White House traditionally hosts a dinner for the group. In addition to the state leaders, Cabinet Secretaries Tim Geithner and Ken Salazar were in attendance, as was Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (the White House provided no guest list). Grammy Award-winner Harry Connick, Jr. and his Big Band band wowed the guests after dinner. (Above: Mrs. Obama and the President dance to Connick's stylings)

"This is not too stiff of an affair, because last year, Ed Rendell led a Conga line," President Obama joked during his toast. "We still have photographs that we may use."

The President was clad in a tuxedo, and Mrs. Obama wore a floor-length black evening gown, with dazzling diamond earrings, and an armload of diamond bangles. Her hair was in loose curls.

Earth, Wind & Fire provided the entertainment for last year's event, and yes, there really was a Conga line. This year, there was no formal arrival on a Red Carpet for the Governors and their spouses or dinner dates, as happened at last year's dinner, perhaps in response to the crashing of the President and Mrs. Obama's State Dinner in November, courtesy of Tareq and Michaele Salahi. Pre-dinner cocktails were held in the Cross Hall, the area on the State Floor that's between the State Dining Room and the East Room, with tall tables set up for leaning. The tables had the same linens as those used for dinner, which are described below. (Above: The President during his toast)

Dinner was held in the State Dining Room, something of a rarity at the Obama White House; the room tends to be multi-purpose, used for everything from mentoring events to meetings with Congressional leaders, since the Obamas have hosted few formal dinners.

The menu...
The three-course, traditionally American beef and seafood menu, overseen by Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, had just a few post-modern Obama embroideries.

The entree was Rib Eye Roast with Shrimp Scampi accompanied by Roasted Potatoes. In keeping with Mrs. Obama's focus on healthy offerings, vegetables were, of course, highlighted on the menu, with a Seven-Layer Salad offered as part of the main course. No produce was used from the White House Kitchen garden for tonight's dinner, however, an East Wing aide told Obama Foodorama, due to the recent heavy snowfall in Washington.

But White House honey from the South Lawn beehive was used by Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses to create the dessert, Baked Alaska, which is perhaps the best-known dessert in existence that's actually named after an American state, and an homage to the fact that the dinner was for America's state executives. The full menu is below.

President and Mrs. Obama also hosted a formal dinner for the National Governors Association in 2009. But last year, it wasn't called "the Governors Ball." In fact, last year media was told it was a state dinner, then that it was just a formal dinner, then that it was the Governors' dinner. That dinner was less than two months into the Administration, and staff at the White House were still in the giddy phase of figuring out where the light switches were. (Above: Mrs. Obama during the President's toast)

The President's toast...
In his toast, President Obama spoke about the "brutal times" the state execs are facing at home with the economy, and said that the federal government could learn something from the Governors about working across party lines. (Above: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty laughs at the President's toast, before the subject matter got serious)

"It's hard to be overly ideological as a Governor because the fact of the matter is, the rubber hits the road with you," President Obama said.

At last year's Governors Dinner, President Obama also told the gang that they were "where the rubber hits the road." A testament perhaps to the environmentally friendly White House that toasts get recycled? The full transcript of President Obama's toast remarks is here.

2010 White House Governors Ball Menu

First
French Onion Soup with Croutons

Wine Pairing: Sugarleaf Vineyards Petit Manseng 2008 (Monticello, VA)

Main
Rib Eye Roast with Shrimp Scampi
Roasted Potatoes
Carrots and Mushroom Caps
Seven Layer Salad

Wine Pairing: Landmark Vineyards Syrah “Steel Plow” 2006 (Sonoma County, CA)

Dessert
Baked Alaska

Wine pairing: Fenn Valley “42 Ice Wine” 2008 (Fennville, MI)

The wines deserve special notice; each vineyard is an award winner, and in keeping with the White House practice of highlighting regional American offerings, these represent both coasts and as close to the middle of the country as is possible, for wine making. Each vineyard state, in a hilarious side note, also has either a 2010 gubernatorial race or a Senate race that is critical for White House interests. Also, Sugarleaf Vineyard is a boutique winery that is African American owned, and that's something of a rarity among American wineries. (Above: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger raises his glass during the President's toast. He was seated with Interior Secretary Salazar)

Place settings
, Linens, Flowers...
The round tables each seated ten, and linens were a creamy white with a black paisley pattern. The place settings reflected Mrs. Obama's new tradition of mixing Presidential patterns, and the patterns chosen also symbolically represented a bevy of states. (Above: A detail of the linens)

The service plate was the Clinton State China Service, which was commissioned for the 200th anniversary of the White House. It was created in 2000 by Lenox, of Trenton New Jersey. This is the only White House china service that features architectural renderings of the White House, rather than the Presidential seal, or a decorative motif. A cream soup cup and saucer from the Johnson State China Service was at each place setting; these are from 1968, and created by Castleton China, Inc., in Pennsylvania.

Kennedy glassware was used, and these were originally made by the Morgantown Glass Guild, Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1961; and supplemented in 1991 by Lenox, Inc. Water goblets from the Franklin D. Roosevelt State Glassware Service were used; these were originally made by Tiffin Glass Co., Tiffin, Ohio, and cut by T.G. Hawkes & Company, Corning, New York, 1938-1955. These were re-ordered in alter years, due to breakage.

Flatware was the King Charles flatware service, made by Gorham of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1974. This was supplemented in 2006 by Lenox Inc., which now owns the Gorham molds.

Floral arrangements were low, in gold bowls, with a variety of pink, hot pink, orange and pale pink roses, asters, dahlias, and freesia, designed by White House florist Laura Dowling, in what is the second largest outing of her new career. Dowling made her debut as official florist at November's State Dinner. Four tall white candles in gold candlesticks were on each table. Chairs were the gold-tone chairs that are always used in the State Dining Room. In the East Room, where the evening's entertainment took place, huge vases of bright yellow Forsythia branches were placed on fireplace mantels. (Above: One of the flower arrangements)

The musical stylings of...
Grammy-award winner Connick and his Big Band performed in the East Room, which was decorated with tall branches of bright yellow Forsythia, arranged on the fireplace mantels and tables. In the early afternoon, Mrs. Obama hosted school children from DC's Miner Elementary School, for a special music and history lesson with Connick, which also took place in the East Room. (At left: Mrs. Obama and Connick during the afternoon music event)

Mrs. Obama told the kids, all members of the school's Glee Club, that the Governor's Ball was "a good chance for people to not talk about things they don't agree with, and just have fun...and get to know each other."

Mrs. Obama also told media at the event that she would be wearing a white gown to the Ball, but apparently she had a change of heart, because she wore a black gown instead.

An interesting study in scandal, above: New York's Governor David Paterson during dinner; he's currently under assault from the New York Times, among other media outlets; in the foreground, blurry, is South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, who is in the midst of being divorced by his wife, Jenny Sanford, thanks to an extra-marital affair that was so broad it included Argentina and the Appalachian Trail.

On Saturday morning, Mrs. Obama spoke to the Governors at the opening session of their winter meeting, and appealed to them to support her child obesity campaign, Let's Move!. It was an interesting foray, as she assured the group that the federal government had no interest in impinging on states' rights with the campaign.

On Monday, Mrs. Obama will host the Governors' spouses for a luncheon at the White House.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; others AP/pool photos, except for photo of linens and Mrs. Obama with Connick; those are by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama