Saturday, August 14, 2010

Top Toque Turns Five: Executive Chef Cris Comerford Celebrates White House Anniversary

First female Executive Chef hits a milestone...
Congratulations are due Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, who today celebrates five years as Top Toque at the White House. Her career since 1996 has included cooking for heads of state and royalty, Nobel laureates and international luminaries, sports stars, and celebrities--but today Comerford has the day off, since the First Family is in Florida.

>Read about Comerford's August trip to Asia with Club de Chefs des Chefs, the exclusive fraternity of chefs who cook for world leaders and royal families

Comerford, 48, is the first woman and the first Filipino to hold the position of White House Executive Chef, and was promoted by First Lady Laura Bush on August 14, 2005. In keeping with White House tradition, First Lady Michelle Obama retained Chef Comerford when she arrived in Washington in January of 2009. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Comerford, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and assistant chef Sam Kass during a White House cooking demonstration)

"I am delighted that Cris Comerford has accepted the position of White House Executive Chef," Mrs. Bush said in 2005, when announcing Comerford's promotion. "Her passion for cooking can be tasted in every bite of her delicious creations." (At left, Comerford and Mrs. Bush at the 2008 holiday menu preview at the White House)

When the Obama transition team announced on January 9, 2009 that Mrs. Obama would be keeping Chef Comerford as her own Executive Chef, the future First Lady also lauded Comerford's culinary skill.

"Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family," Mrs. Obama said. "Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families. I look forward to working with her in the years to come."

Last year, in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Comerford called being Top Toque for the Obamas "a great honor."

"Just seeing the two of them eat is cool," Comerford said about the President and Mrs. Obama. "It is an insight that nobody else has but us," she added, referring to herself and her fellow White House chefs. (At left, Mrs. Obama and Comerford at the menu preview for the 2009 Governors Ball, the first black-tie dinner of the administration)

Comerford also discussed what it's like being the first female White House Executive Chef.

"It is a great honor bestowed on me," Comerford said. "It is also a big responsibility. It is something that I take very seriously on a day-to-day basis. You want to make sure you are doing the right thing and be the best you can be."

Already a ten-year White House veteran when Mrs. Bush promoted her, Comerford became Top Toque following the departure of Executive Chef Walter Scheib III, who had recruited her to work in the Clinton White House. She began her tenure as an assistant chef, and then became Scheib's Executive Sous Chef before being named his replacement. Comerford's own Executive Sous Chef, Tommy Kurpradit, is now entering his thirteenth year at the White House. Many other White House chefs have equally long tenures; Pastry Chef Susie Morrison, right-hand to Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, is entering her sixteenth year at the White House.

A longtime-heroine in the Philippines, since the Obama administration began, Comerford has become something of a household name in America, thanks to media outings that include (winning) the special White House episode of Iron Chef America and the Martha Stewart Show. She's credited Mrs. Obama with encouraging her to plant her own kitchen garden at home, and has been an active participant in the First Lady's nutrition campaign. (Above: Comerford and Mrs. Obama, with from l Chef Bobby Flay, Iron Chef host Alton Brown, Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse, during the filming of Iron Chef America at the White House)

Comerford grew up in Sampaloc, Manila, and was trained in the Philippines, were she attended but did not graduate from the Food Technology program at the University of the Philippines. After emigrating to the United States with her family, Comerford gained international culinary experience serving as Chef Tournant at Le Ciel in Vienna, Austria; Chef at Le Grande Bistro at The Westin Hotel in Washington, D.C.; and Chef at The Colonnade at the ANA Hotel in Washington, D.C., where she implemented the "Culinary Arts Gallery," which showcased the best of American fine cuisine. She is married and has one daughter.

*Top photo by Obama Foodorama; photo with Mrs. Bush by Shealah Craighead/White House; bottom photo courtesy of Food Network