The White House chef has an all-American appetite & names his favorite DC eateries & his favorite foods
"A life without burgers and fries is really depressing," First Lady Michelle Obama declared last month, and last week she announced that she likes junk food even more than President Obama, whose many public burger runs have been covered by global media. It turns out that Sam Kass, the newly minted Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives, who is helping Mrs. Obama's national campaign to re-imagine food policy, shares his bosses' affection for junk food and burgers.
That re-imagining has turned into the Let's Move! campaign, and it's highly accessible to the citizenry, because Kass and the Obamas share the tastes of most Americans, and obviously have a personal understanding of what's become the "traditional" palate.
Kass' predilection for tacos and chicken wings (also a presidential favorite) has been duly noted in the past, as has the fact that a chef colleague from his civilian days calls him "a human garbage disposal," because of his prodigious appetite. Since moving to the District in January of 2009, Kass has been spotted around town at all kinds of restaurants, but he's just named Good Stuff Eatery, a DC burger joint, as among his favorites. Good Stuff is known for its excellent burgers, which have very creative toppings made in-house, as well as for its incredibly good milkshakes.
Kass is such a big fan of the Capitol Hill joint, owned by chef Spike Mendelsohn, that he mentions it in not one but two new interviews. And he uses the word "love" both times. (At l, Kass and Spike at the White House)
"I love Good Stuff for a good burger," Kass announced in a Smart Food podcast on Edible Radio.
“I love Good Stuff,” Kass said in this story in the July issue of Chicago Magazine, which scrutinizes the cadre of Chicagoans who have moved to DC with the Obama administration.
The First Lady visited Good Stuff twice in 2009, accompanied by staff, and President Obama, according to Chef Spike, has ordered "secret" take out burgers. Spike has guest cheffed at the White House, not incidentally, and he's joined the Let's Move! campaign. He was at the launch of Chefs Move to Schools, as well as being one of the citizen chef advisers for the project. He's also the creator of the President Obama Burger--but that happened way back in campaign season. Post-election, Spike created The Michelle Melt, a turkey burger in honor of Mrs. Obama.
Kass' picks for beef and bisteca in DC, a "Food Town"
For Kass' other favorite local eateries, beef seems to be a theme. BLT, chef Laurent Tourondel's steak bistro located just a couple of blocks from the White House, makes the Kasstastic list, as does Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. Founding Farmers, which is owned by a collective of American family farmers, and has a focus on food that is raised with best practices, makes the Kass list.
Kass also said he "loves anything by José Andrés," the DC chef who has a bevy of restaurants that are major favorites with Washingtonians. Kass cites Andrés' Oyamel (Mexican cuisine) and Zaytinya (Greek and Mediterranean cuisine) as two particular favorites. (Above: Andrés, Kass, and Mrs. Obama in the White House Kitchen Garden)
"There's a lot of great restaurants in D.C.," Kass said. "This is a food town."
Andrés has guest cheffed at the White House, of course, and worked on Let's Move!--also as an adviser--and he's the only chef named to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. Kass and Mrs. Obama lunched together at Oyamel last year.
The final entry on the Kass hotlist of DC eateries: Obelisk, owned by Peter Pastan, which Kass dubs "wonderful." The tiny and pricey restaurant, located in DuPont Circle, has a very small menu that changes regularly, based on luxe and creative interpretations of Italian cuisine.
Favorite foods: Oysters, spinach, tomatoes...
Of course, Kass also likes healthy foods as much as the President and First Lady are said to--when they're not enjoying the junk. Striking a balance between healthy and not-so-healthy is administration policy when it comes to food: There's plenty of room for burgers and fries (and wings and pie) if you're eating well most of the time, is the thinking. It's all about moderation.
Kass said that he lets what's "fresh" and "at the peak of season" guide what he cooks for himself at home; in keeping with his position as overseer of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden, he's all about fresh produce.
"I love tomatoes as much as anything, but, you know, when they're ripe and delicious," Kass said. "I love greens, I love spinach. I mean I love a lot of vegetables."
Kass, who is noted in the Chicago Magazine interview as having "plummy lips, dimples, and an easy smile," has become the crush object of many female foodies since rocketing on to the national scene alongside Mrs. Obama. So women will be particularly interested to know that Kass also names oysters, a foodie aphrodisiac, as a favorite food. And he loves scallops, too.
Not to be lost in the equation: Kass, like the President and First Lady, is a fitness enthusiast. He's a former baseball star, and his white chef coat is not exactly concealing the fact that he's somehow managing to get in work-out time, despite his crazy schedule doing dual duty as chef and policy wonk.
*Kass' interview on Edible Radio is with Washington Post's Jane Black; the Chicago Magazine story is by Ashley Parker.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama