Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sam Kass: No Longer First Lady Michelle Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator

Let's Moving on up: The assistant chef gets a promotion
Sam Kass has been doing far more than double duty, as both child nutrition policy wonk and assistant White House chef, since he joined the First Family in Washington in January of 2009.

Kass is one of the architects of First Lady Michelle Obama's huge food policy agenda, as well as an adviser and ambassador to schools, members of the federal government and state and local governments, and to the media, for the Let's Move! campaign. He's also involved with any and everything else at the White House that has to do with food policy. And he still cooks there. (Above: Kass on July 11, with two members of the School Nutrition Association, during the group's annual national conference in Dallas, Texas)

In June, Kass was quietly promoted within the ranks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and is no longer known as Mrs. Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator. According to a White House source, Kass' title was changed from "Food Initiative Coordinator" to Senior Policy Adviser For Healthy Food Initiatives. There has been little fanfare, and no formal announcement from the East Wing or the White House about Kass' promotion.

On June 4, during the White House launch event for Chefs Move To Schools, Mrs. Obama, in her formal remarks, called Kass her "partner in crime" as she publicly praised him for his service.

"He has just been such an important part of promoting healthy eating, not just here at the White House, but helping to shape this initiative," Mrs. Obama said.

The new title more accurately reflects Kass' broad range of duties, as internal and external expert on all things health, kids, and food. He is now being introduced in public with his new title, as he was on Sunday and Monday, when he visited the School Nutrition Association's huge Annual National Conference at the Dallas Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. There, Kass spoke to the membership about Chefs Move To Schools, and intermittently manned USDA's booth on the trade show floor. The East Wing has not yet commented on whether or not Kass' new title includes new duties.

There was no formal announcement when Kass originally became "Food Initiative Coordinator," in addition to being assistant chef in 2009, either. Update: There are other chef policy wonks in the Obama administration; health policy adviser Zeke Emanuel is a part time food pro, too.

This year, on July 1, the White House released its annual salary report for Office Staff to Congress, but Kass is not listed there as a policy adviser, or anything else. He's still "Residence Staff," despite being critically important to Mrs. Obama's national campaign to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation, and despite all the impact he's having on national health and food policy.

Other food and Ag transition news...
David Lazarus
, formerly a senior adviser for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, on Monday started working at the White House as adviser to President Obama on agriculture and rural affairs, a position on the Domestic Policy Council that has been vacant for 18 months. His transition also was made with no formal announcement from either the White House or USDA. Lazarus will remain on the USDA payroll, according to Food Safety News.

Kass on the Chefs Move panel with (from L) Baltimore City Public Schools Nutrition Director Tony Geraci; Brad Trudeau of Dallas Public Schools, and Tim Cipriano, who is Executive Food Service Director at New Haven Public Schools. Geraci and Cipriano have been advisers for the Chefs Move initiative.

Related: Kass stars in the new Let's Cook video series. Last week, Kass gave a cooking lesson to America's governors at their annual National Governors Association meeting in Boston, MA. In May, Kass gave the closing keynote speech at the Food Marketing Institute's annual national conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kass recently appeared on Top Chef: DC in a special school lunch episode. Top Chef host Tom Colicchio returned the favor by testifying before the House Education & Labor Committee in support of child nutrition legislation, on July 1.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama