Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rick Bayless Will Be Guest Chef For State Dinner

Produce from the Kitchen Garden and local sourcing will be featured for the politically charged dinner
Update: WH tweeting
Update: Bayless dishes some more here.
Update: Bayless' State Dinner recipe.
Chicago chef extraordinaire Rick Bayless, a favorite of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, will serve as the guest chef for the upcoming State Dinner on May 19, the second of the administration. The President and Mrs. Obama will honor Mexico's President Felipe Calderón at the lavish and formal event, and because Bayless has made Mexican cuisine his life's work, he's a perfect fit. Although he just received the invitation to guest chef two weeks ago, Bayless has apparently already thought of everything, and has revealed some of his plans for the State Dinner to the New York Times.*

Bayless is a well known and award winning TV chef and cookbook author, and his Chicago eateries, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, were long favorites of the Obamas back when they lived in the Windy City--so much so that Bayless was on the fictional short list of potential White House executive chefs, in the pre-inauguration days when this was a subject of national debate. Last year, on Cinco de Mayo, Mrs. Obama told a gang of school children that her very favorite food is "anything Mexican." The Obamas' many visits to Bayless' eateries testifies to that.

“This is probably the biggest honor I’ve ever had,” Bayless tells Marian Burros of the New York Times about his State Dinner guest chef nod--and he's had a lot of honors. Most recently, he was a James Beard nominee, and Chicago Magazine just named both Topolobampo and Frontera Grill to its list of Top Forty Best Chicago Restaurants Ever. Bayless says that all the dishes for the State Dinner will be taken from his restaurant menus, including the Green Ceviche with Cucumber, pictured above, which accompanies the Times story (the recipe is here). He also released the guest count: Two hundred people are expected, he says.

It's an unusual breach of protocol that Bayless has discussed menu items before the First Lady has announced these formally, which usually occurs on the day of the State Dinner. iIt's also unusual that he's reveled the head count for the guests--something that's been the subject of wild speculation in Washington for weeks.*

The choice of Bayless as State Dinner guest chef now makes it something of an Obama tradition to hand off cooking duties: New York/Chicago chef Marcus Samuelsson was the first-ever guest chef tapped to do the menu creating and cooking duties for last November's State Dinner, in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. And Bayless now joins the legion of celeb guest chefs who have worked in the White House kitchen, including Jose Andres, Art smith, Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, Mario Batali, and Emeril Lagasse, as well as lesser-known but equally talented chefs such as Maricel Presilla and Koren Grieveson.

Pressure cooker...
Any State Dinner is a very big deal on the White House calendar, but because this one is in honor of Mexico, the pressure is at an all-time high--not just in the kitchen, but politically. America and Mexico share a 3,000 kilometer border, and are inextricably linked economically, with millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans--legal and illegal--calling America home. When speaking at the Cinco de Mayo reception last week (in photo), President Obama was careful to note that he's nominated more Latinos to senior positions than any administration in history, and he also used the event to announce his intention to work on comprehensive immigration reform.

"The United States and Mexico are not simply neighbors...we’re two societies that are woven together by millions of family and friends, by common interests and a shared future," President Obama said. "Those are bonds that are unbreakable. They’re bonds of an aspirational community."

Menu details: The Kitchen Garden is perfect for Mexican cuisine
Bayless will be working overtime to make the stunning meal that will reflect "our common fate" and "aspirations," and which must also deeply impress the guest of honor. Bayless said the dishes he creates will use produce from the White House Kitchen Garden, which is growing like gangbusters. He says parsley, chives, lettuce, arugula, radishes and mint will be incorporated. Dessert, made with local strawberries, will of course be prepared by White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, after consultation with Bayless. Yosses will likely be using honey from the White House Beehive, too. (Above: The Kitchen Garden last week, busting with Spring crops)

A problem that Bayless notes: It often takes days to make some of his traditional cuisine sauces. But due to rigid food security protocols, he's not allowed to bring any of his own ingredients into the White House. So Bayless says that he will be bringing his prep crew to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue two days early to get cooking, in particular to prepare a 28-ingredient Oaxacan black mole.

Bayless was officially tapped for the State Dinner Guest Chef spot after a visit to his Frontera Grill by Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, who was in Chicago two weeks ago, accompanied by a deputy White House social secretary. While in Chicago, Comerford also gave an Earth Day speech about local food sourcing and the White House Kitchen Garden to an excited audience of students at Northwestern University (watch a video of Comerford in action here).

Location, location, location...
No word yet on where the dinner will be held--inside the White House or in an outdoor South Lawn "tent" --which is White House code for a giant pavilion with a hard floor, a pro sound system and lighting, bulletproof glass windows, and chandeliers. Current scuttle in DC is that the dinner will be held inside the White House, and entertainment will be in a tent (this weekend, if there's construction going on on the South Lawn, part of that question will be answered). Security for the Mexico State Dinner, needless to say, will be incredibly tight, as it has been since November, following the Crashing Salahis' "visit" to the first State Dinner. That led to a re-vamp of security protocols...and perhaps the exit of former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers (though she maintains the breach was not her fault). The Secret Service ultimately took the blame, following a hearing from the House Homeland Security Committee. (Above: President and Mrs. Obama with the Prime Minister and his wife, during the formal arrivals for the first State Dinner)

*A correction to this post as it originally appeared: The East Wing did not reveal any of the State Dinner details. According to Times writer Marian Burros, Bayless spilled all the details himself. That goes against traditional White House protocol for State Dinners; historically, the East Wing releases all menu details on behalf of the First Lady, or the First Lady hosts a menu preview for media to discuss foods and china, etc., that will be used for special or holiday events.

*Photos: Obama State Dinner photo and Kitchen Garden by Obama Foodorama; New York Times photo by Aynsley Floyd; Cinco de Mayo photo by AP; Bayless photo from Bayless media.