Monday, July 26, 2010

Zeke Emanuel, Policy Adviser & Foodie

In a new interview, Emanuel discusses his foodie life and names DC chef José Andrés' Minibar as his fave restaurant
President Obama's
Special Adviser for Health Policy, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, is another White House wonk who has a big interest in the impact of food and food policy on public health, joining the contingent of chef policy advisers who create White House food policy. Emanuel was profiled as a foodie in the Sunday New York Times Fashion & Style section.

The Times story (reprinted below) features the tale of a foodie bet Emanuel, an amateur baker and part-time food critic for The Atlantic, made with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Emanuel also names DC chef José Andrés' resturant Minibar as his favorite DC eatery; Senior Policy Adviser For Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass, who frequently consults with Emanuel, has also listed Andrés' eateries Oyamel and Zaytinya as among his favorite DC restaurants.

Emanuel is brother of President Obama's chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Farmers Market By The White House, which is now in the midst of its second season, and located a few blocks from the White House campus.

“Part of wellness for federal employees and goodness for the community,” Emanuel tells the Times. The photo at top of post is Emanuel at this year's opening of the market on May 6, enjoying a plate of paella cooked by Andrés in a giant vat, during his star turn as the featured chef at market.

Helping citizens have better access to fresh foods as a way of improving public health and combating obesity is a goal of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, and the White House Farmers Market was created to both set a good example, and boost food access for the many federal employees who work in the area; it's located in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently visited an urban farm in Boston, and lauded it as a good effort at preventive health care, too. (Above, Andrés cooking the paella at the market opening)

The Atlantic, home of Emanuel's foodie musings, perhaps not coincidentally, is currently running a story by chef Michel Nischan, CEO of the Wholesome Wave Foundation, who was at the White House launch event for Mrs. Obama's Chefs Move To Schools project on June 4, 2010. Nischan details his experience working with kids in Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden during the special harvest that followed the South Lawn ceremony to unveil Chefs Move. In May, The Atlantic also devoted a cover story to combating obesity, written by editor Marc Ambinder, who was himself obese before losing weight.

The Emanuel story ran on page 7 of the Times' Fashion & Style section in the print edition:

In A Family of Power Siblings, One Focuses On The Table
By Ashley Parker

Zeke Emanuel was dismembering a duck.

“Maybe this is why they didn’t allow me to be a surgeon,” he joked, tearing into a charcoal-grilled thigh and splattering fat all over his blue shirt.

Dr. Emanuel may not be a surgeon, but he is an oncologist who holds an M.D. and a Ph.D. from Harvard and heads the bioethics department at the National Institutes of Health; a special adviser for health policy for the Obama administration; and at 52 is the oldest of the three Emanuel brothers who, in the estimation of the others, is also the smartest.

A recent July week was proving to be relatively leisurely for the doctor, at least by the Emanuel brothers’ standards. President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was trying to save the House from going Republican, and the Hollywood super agent Ari Emanuel was dropping Mel Gibson from his agency’s roster of clients and dealing with the blowback from ESPN’s LeBron James special, “The Decision.”

Dr. Emanuel, who has a lean, boyishly handsome face like his brothers, had found the time to sidle up to the sushi bar at Kushi, a new Japanese restaurant in Mount Vernon Square in Washington.

“I think we’ve got enough here — let’s review,” he said, rattling off a sampling of plates without pork or shellfish (Dr. Emanuel keeps a kosher house): everything from miso marinated fish and quail stuffed with duck sausage to grilled mushrooms and skewered potatoes.

“Oh, this is nice,” he said appreciatively, when the flash-fried tofu arrived. “I’m not a fan of tofu. But this is nice.”

He added, “Tofu is like food for people without teeth.”

Dr. Emanuel is surprisingly well versed in food. A divorced father of three, he is an amateur baker, a skill he picked up when his children were small and he realized he could keep them busy measuring flour and cracking eggs. He is also one of the driving forces behind the farmers’ market that Michelle Obama opened blocks from the White House last fall. “Part of wellness for federal employees and goodness for the community,” he said.

And now, thanks to a “three-hour argument about Alice Waters and molecular gastronomy” with the Atlantic editor and food writer Corby Kummer, he is also a sometime critic on the magazine’s food blog. There, he offers up everything from his matzo brei recipe to his pick for the best restaurant in Washington (Minibar, with the chef José Andrés).

“When I like something, I don’t mind praising it,” he said, referring to food and his habit of speaking his mind. “And when I don’t like something, I don’t mind saying that. A typical Emanuel talent.”

Still, he said he enjoys constructive criticism, although he bristled at the mention of Sarah Palin’s effective use of the term “death panels.”

“That’s not criticism,” he said. “That’s just lies.”

And for a moment he showed a flash of anger, one facet of the trademark Emanuel brothers’ intense, kinetic energy that is often on display — an almost perpetual rat-a-tat-tat of quips, questions and opinions that are equal parts direct, wryly amused and, at times, off-color. He’s the type of person who will lean over the counter to get a better look at the sushi chef (“Wow, that is amazing knife skill,” he enthused) or good-naturedly harangue the waitress about the chicken meatball he ordered that looks more like a chicken skewer.

“Meatball?” he asked. “That doesn’t look like a meatball. It’s one big ball.”

And then later: “We didn’t get the jumbo leeks. That’s jumbo? Those five little baby leeks? That’s jumbo? That’s not jumbo!”

Recently, Dr. Emanuel’s culinary passion has received more attention than usual, after a wager with Justice Antonin Scalia over whether health care reform legislation would pass ended in a free dinner. (Dr. Emanuel won.) He chose the Washington restaurant Komi, where the Obamas recently dined, but after word of the bet leaked to the press, Justice Scalia requested a venue change and the pair ended up at Minibar.

“I think he liked it but I think he was a little surprised, mostly by the wine bill,” Dr. Emanuel said. “It was a fabulous meal. I wrote about it. A fabulous meal.”

He continued: “That’s why I always bet meals. Because I always win. Even if I lose, I win because I have a nice meal.” (True to form, Dr. Emanuel’s night at Kushi ended in a dinner wager about whether he’d be able to find the Sunday New York Times on a coming trip to Vienna, and in a follow-up e-mail message the next day, he needled, “Can’t wait to collect on my bet.”)

Soon the waitress appeared with a bowl of black sesame ice cream garnished with candied ginger, and he offered a final verdict: “It was good, good ice cream. Texture is a little sawdusty. But the ginger is phenomenal.”

With that, Dr. Emanuel checked his watch and announced that it was after nine and he had work to do. He jumped up, slung his black leather backpack over his shoulder, and was off.

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*Emanuel & Andrés photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; Emanuel photo with Times story by Andrew Councill/New York Times