Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Starstruck In The White House Kitchen: Exec. Chef Cris Comerford & Louie Ocampo

It doesn't matter that during her fifteen years at the White House, Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford has cooked for the crowned heads of Europe and world leaders, movie and rock stars, literary legends, war heroes, Olympians, Nobel laureates...and every living president.

It doesn't matter that lately she's been on TV a lot, and now gets recognized on the street. Chef Comerford can still get impressed. And even starstruck. That's what reportedly happened when famed Filipino composer Louie Ocampo brought his family for a White House visit on April 3.

The visit was at Chef Comerford's invitation, and she led the family on a tour of the kitchen, pastry kitchen, and other parts of the White House. They met Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, among other culi staff.

So who knew that Chef Comerford was aflutter during the tour? Why, a Filipino entertainment writer, of course. A gossip columnist, if you will. As is often noted here, Chef Comerford has long been a national heroine and a household name in the Philippines, her homeland; she's regarded as one of the most successful ex-pats the country has given to America. What she does makes headlines. And this was going on even before Chef Comerford became the Top Toque for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and started making high-profile media appearances.

Thus, Comerford's Ocampo Outing at the White House was duly recorded, almost step-by-step, by Funfare, an English-language website, which detailed the visit, and proclaimed Chef Comerford "starstruck." Ocampo was reportedly equally smitten, as he wasn't expecting a personal tour; he thought he'd be handed off to a White House staffer. (Top photo: Ocampo and his family in the State Dining Room; bottom, Comerford, in black, poses with the Ocampo kids in the pastry kitchen, with the chocolate farm that was on display two days later for the 2010 White House Easter Egg Roll)

The full story with lots of local color, by Ricardo F. Lo:

I’m sure that by now, Cristeta Pasia Comerford, the Pinay executive chef of the White House, is already used to meeting world leaders and Hollywood celebrities. That’s why running into or even “accidentally” rubbing elbows with, say, French President Nicolas Sarkozy or Reese Witherspoon may not be such a big deal.

But according to Edmund Silvestre in a joint story for the New York-based The Filipino Reporter and Funfare, “Once in a while, the world’s most famous lady chef who joined the White House in 1995 admits to friends she still gets starstruck especially by celebrities from her native Philippines.”

And guess who got Cristeta “starstruck” — and perhaps vice-versa — recently...yes, Louie Ocampo who is the composer of Cristeta’s favorite OPM while she was still in Sampaloc, Manila, and even until she migrated to the US in mid-’80s, among them Say That You Love Me, Ewan, Kahit Isang Saglit, and Don’t Say Goodbye.

“That’s why when Louie expressed interest in touring the White House when he met Cristeta at a Philippine Embassy function in Washington, D.C. last February,” said Edmund, “Cristeta personally arranged the tour and scheduled it on April 3, with Louie’s wife Jojo and their children Patricia, Roberta, Isabella and Quito.”

“I was really surprised because I thought she simply made arrangements for our tour and would probably ask us to join a group or maybe ask somebody to guide us,” Ocampo told Bing Branigin, a Filipino-American political leader in D.C. and friend of Cristeta’s. “But she became our personal tour guide and that was really a pleasant surprise.”

Louie admitted that he was “awestruck and honored” to have personally met Cristeta at the Philippine Embassy during a reception following the AS 1 concert of Martin Nievera and Gary Valenciano, also two Cristeta’s favorite singers and the reason why she accepted the invitation of Ambassador Willy Gaa and wife Linda to grace the reception for the visiting performers.

“What Louie didn’t know is that Cris (Comerford’s nickname) was the one who actually got starstruck when she met Louie in person,” laughed Branigin. “Cris is actually a big fan of Louie’s compositions and she knows all of them by heart, especially those popularized by Joey Albert. It’s not often you see Cris openly expressing her respect or admiration for a person. Louie’s songs became part of Cris’ growing years in Manila and she puts Louie in the same pedestal as George Canseco, Willy Cruz, Ryan Cayabyab, Rey Valera and Jose Mari Chan. That’s why Cris is very thankful to Louie for making beautiful songs that made her memories of the Philippines and her younger years lasting.”

Louie told Edmund that he and his family spent much of the visit at the East Wing of the White House, where most of the entertaining is done. It also principally serves as offices for the First Lady and her staff, and where the family theater and the Garden Room are located.

“All rooms were classic and elegant, and we appreciated how Cris thoroughly explained the background behind each of the rooms, as if she were a professional tour guide,” Louie said. “The highlight of our tour was visiting the kitchen and the area of the pastry chef. Though equipped with state of the art facilities, these were, surprisingly, much smaller than we expected. I guess this just proves how efficiently Cris manages the kitchen."

“We also had the privilege of meeting some of Cris’ colleagues in the White House and were impressed by how they related with Cris with much respect and even fondness. We left the White House with a once in a lifetime experience. That visit made us truly proud that a Filipino is one of the key members of the First Family’s resident staff.”

Related: When Filipina singing star Lea Salonga visited Comerford at the White House, it also made headlines. Photo from Funfare.