Video: Comerford describes her journey from the Philippines to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
The Chicago chapter of the March of Dimes has announced that White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford has been named their choice for 2010 Chicago Chef of the Year. The group will hold an award ceremony in the Windy City on November 3, during a fund raising event, and Comerford will be attending to receive her laud, according to the East Wing. Meantime, Comerford's been busy in the media: Beginning today, CNN's Talk Asia is running a segment starring the Top Toque. It was shot in May, when show host Hala Gorani visited the White House and got an inside look at Comerford's life cooking for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Comerford, 48, just marked her fifth anniversary as the first female and first non-white Executive Chef at the White House. She grew up in Sampaloc, Manila, and her first jobs in the States after she emigrated with her family at age 23 were in the kitchens at Chicago's Sheraton and Hyatt Regency hotels--thus her nod as Chicago Chef of the Year. The March of Dimes is honoring Comerford for "her commitment to culinary arts; dedication to the environment, the farming industry, healthy eating, and an eco-friendly lifestyle," as well as for "bringing nationwide attention to healthy eating and reducing childhood obesity." (Above: Comerford on CNN)
Her interest in the culinary arts began when Comerford was a child in the Philippines, she told CNN, and she's well aware that she holds a unique position.
"Coming from a third world country, to be here serving the most powerful man in the world is a big thing," Comerford said. "It’s very humbling for me to be in this position right now, to serve the First Family."
Comerford described her experience cooking as a child in her homeland, noting that when she was nine years old, she volunteered to prepare breakfast for her family, which included ten siblings.
"When I was in the third grade, I said, 'Mom, I’ll take care of breakfast from now on, so you don’t have to do it,'" Comerford said. "It was really something that I had enjoyed as a child but I did not really think it would be my career."
Comerford's father, a school principal, pushed her to study the culinary arts, she said.
"I gave him the blank stare. Why should I go to a culinary school?" Comerford said. "I never really took him seriously. But you know, in retrospect, I guess father really knows best."
She studied food technology at the University of the Philippines Diliman, but left without completing her degree, due to her family's exit to America. (Above: Show host Gorani tweeted a photo of herself with Comerford during the May filming)
Comerford told CNN that the 2009 Governors Ball is her most memorable experience cooking for President and Mrs. Obama to date, because it was the first formal event of the administration.
"For me, it was very special because it was the start of our representation of her," Comerford said.
*The CNN Talk Asia segment will air September 1 (7:30 p.m.), September 2 (11:30 a.m.), September 4 (7 p.m.), September 5 (3:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.), and September 6 (2:30 a.m.).
*The March of Dimes award event will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 3, during the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction at the Swissotel, 323 E. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Ill. Tickets are available for the event; for more information, visit www.marchofdimes.com/illinois or call 312.596.4723.
Related: Comerford just returned from an August 18-25 trip to Hong Kong and Beijing with Club des Chefs des Chefs, the elite fraternity of chefs who cook for heads of state and royal families.
*Top photo and video from CNN; second from Hala Gorani