Tuesday, June 29, 2010

White House Executive Chefs Comerford & Yosses Have Lunch At Purple Yam In New York

Chefs take road trip to visit pan-Asian eatery...as White House announces State Dinner with China
White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses had a very busy weekend. On Sunday, he gave a cooking demonstration at the American Library Association's annual meeting in Washington, to promote his terrific new cookbook, The Perfect Finish. But just the day before, he was 250 miles up the Eastern Seaboard, in New York, with Executive Chef Cris Comerford.

The two Top Toques took a day trip to have Saturday brunch together at Purple Yam, an eatery in Brooklyn that specializes in pan-Asian cuisine. Restaurant co-owner Amy Besa has dished all the details, and released the photo, above, of the chefs dining at her restaurant (lots of other photos are on the restaurant's Facebook page, too). It's (from L), Yosses, Purple Yam chef Romy Dorotan, Comerford, and Charlie Fabella, Yosses' partner.

How could the two principle White House chefs be so far from home, together? Didn't they need to be on call for some First Family fodder? No. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were in Toronto on Saturday, at the G-20 Summit. And during the Summit, Ambassador Jeff Bader announced that President Hu Jintao of China has accepted President Obama's invitation for a State Visit, which means there will be a third State Dinner at the White House in the coming months. And both previous State Dinners were cooked by guest chefs...who were vetted by White House chefs, and Social Office staff, before being selected.

Yosses hails from New York, and apparently he was a big fan of the highly regarded but now-defunct Cendrillon restaurant that Besa and her husband, Chef Dorotan, also owned, in New York. Comerford is from the Philippines, so the New York culinary road trip was drenched in shades of all kinds of nostalgia; Purple Yam has a focus on Filipino dishes, but the chef also "looks widely across Asia for inspiration," as one critic noted.

As the White House chefs were mid-visit, Purple Yam's Facebook page was updated with this:

HOLY COW!! We have Cris Comerford here at PY right now! White House Chef!! ANd Bill Yeoses, Pastry Chef of the WH> Cris came up from DC today just to have brunch at Purple Yam!

Besa then wrote all about the visit on Purple Yam's blog:

It was a leisurely Saturday brunch at Purple Yam...Then Romy excitedly told me that Chef Cris from the White House had just come in. What a treat and a great surprise. It was even a bigger thrill to find out that she and WH Pastry Chef Bill Yosses had just decided to take the train from DC to NYC and go to Brooklyn to have brunch at Purple Yam. Bill had been several times to Cendrillon with his partner, Charlie even before he took over the pastry dept at the WH.

So what did the two chefs and Charlie dine on at Purple Yam? Besa tells all in her blogpost:

Well, they ordered just like everybody else: Ukoy (fritters), chicken adobo with bagoong fried rice (coincidentally that was the combo that NYT food critic Sam Sifton had recommended), pancit luglug, and Romy gave them a taste of Chef Perry Mamaril’s ilocano-style dry dinuguan which we serve during our Lutong Bahay (home cooking) lunch...For dessert, they ordered buko pie and champorrado and Romy gave them a taste of more homemade ice creams: Avocado, banana rum and mango.

Besa also ponders what it's like to be Cristeta Comerford, who is a huge celeb--and a national heroine--in the Philippines:

Chef Cris looks like she is unaccustomed to her new found celebrity (avoiding the hysteria wherever she went when she visited the Philippines recently). You can tell she would rather be in the kitchen whipping us great food and sometimes giving special treats to Bo, the Obama family dog. She proudly told me that her little 11-year-old just recently asked for milk fish (bangus) and so she had to hunt down a bangus in the DC area for her. [Ed. Note: Comerford has revealed in interviews that she lives in Maryland; and because her daughter is a minor, you don't need to know her name]

Besa closes by noting more details:

Then it was getting late and they said that they had to catch a train at Penn Station to get back to DC. Her [Comerford's] parting words to me were: “It makes me so proud to walk into a restaurant like this.” Well, thank you Chef Cris, but we were busting with pride that we have a Pinay as Executive Chef of the White House!

Business or pleasure, it sounds like the White House chefs had a wonderful time.

New York chef Marcus Samuelsson was the guest chef for the November 2009 State Dinner #1 - India, in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Chicago's Rick Bayless held the historic position for State Dinner #2 - Mexico, in May of 2010, honoring President Felipe Calderon.

Above: The day after the Purple Yam visit, Yosses demo'd pastry technique on Sunday in the cooking pavilion at the American Library Association, as he discussed The Perfect Finish.

note: Charlie Fabella, Yosses' domestic partner, lives in New York. Yosses recently discussed their relationship in an interview with the New York Times.

*Besa's lunch recap is at the restaurant's Purple Yam blog, via Regator.