Friday, October 22, 2010

Behind The Scenes At Chef Daniel Boulud's Visit To The White House

The superstar chef extends a special invitation during the Kitchen Garden Fall Harvest...
Chef Daniel Boulud
seemed like he was having a terrific time when he visited the White House on Wednesday, as the acclaimed chef du jour invited to join First Lady Michelle Obama for the Fall Harvest of the Kitchen Garden. Born in France and based in New York, Boulud is a superstar in the culinary world who trots the globe for food festivals, and he was all smiles and enthusiasm during the Harvest. Just like the First Lady, he was right down in the dirt with the school kids he was paired with for the veggie pulling. (Above: As he sampled newly-plucked baby white radishes with the First Lady and the kids, Boulud commented that they'd be swell in a sauce)

Before the Harvest event officially started, Boulud chatted with all the White House chefs, and he had his own digital camera out, and was snapping photos. He was overheard inviting Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass and the other White House chefs to visit him in New York so they could cook together; Boulud has five different restaurants in Manhattan.

"You come to New York, yes?" Boulud said to Kass, as they stood beside a picnic table where Kass was laying out newly-made Kitchen Garden salad and napkins. "It will be great." (Above: Kass and Boulud, mid-confab)

Boulud also spoke briefly with reporters on the sidelines of the garden, recalling his own childhood on his father's farm in Lyon, France, where they not only grew vegetables, but raised livestock, and had a dairy and cheesemaking operation for cow and goat milk. They also made charcuterie (Bouloud's "Bar Boulud" in New York is devoted to charcuterie).

"I was just like those kids," Boulud said, pointing to the visiting students gathered on the South Lawn. "Working everyday. I was in the vegetables, picking and pulling. There were thirty goats and cows, we raised squab and rabbit, hunted the wild birds like pheasant and duck...we sold at the farmers market."

He doesn't now have his own garden in New York, Boulud said, but added that "It's a dream." Mrs. Obama's garden is "fantastique," he said.

On Let's Move! and Chefs Move to Schools, Boulud was all enthusiasm.

"This is big. It's huge!" Boulud said. "It is so important for everyone."

The chair of the Board of Directors for the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation, which promotes culinary training and excellence, Boulud arrived at the White House with a group of rising culinary hotshots, including James Kent and Tom Allan, the duo who will represent America at the biannual international Bocuse d'Or competition in January. They toured the White House kitchen before heading down to the garden. There was a bit of drama: It was storming in Washington on Wednesday, and their plane was delayed. (Above: Boulud pushes a wheelbarrow of sweet potatoes with his kid helpers)

Boulud and his protégés have adopted a school in Washington Heights in New York as part of the Chefs Move to Schools initiative. Bocuse d'Or Executive Director Nora Carey declined to name the school--but she said the team will be teaching the kids how to shop for fresh food at the local farmers market, and teaching them how to cook in the state-of-the-art kitchen in the Bocuse d'Or training facility.

"If you have some cooking technique, you're set for life," Carey said. She added that after the team competes in the international Bocuse d'Or challenge in January, they'll be looking to expand their involvement in Chefs Move to Schools.

During the Harvest, Boulud gave little cooking tips to his helpers, explaining how certain veggies can be used.

"We're going to make sweet potatoes for the president!" Boulud said as he and his helpers weighed some of monsters that had just come out of the ground. "Maybe a sweet potato puree!"

Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses majored in French in college, and also earned a graduate degree in French, which is how he arrived in France, where he swapped his academic aspirations to become a chef. He gave Boulud a tour of the Kitchen Garden, chatting in French, and pointing out the layout of the 29 beds. (Above: Yosses, left, with Boulud in the middle of the garden)

Near the end of the Harvest, as Mrs. Obama was getting ready to head back up to the residence, she stopped to pose for a special photo with Boulud and his group, then gave him a big hug before heading up the South Lawn to the White House (Below: Mrs. Obama and Boulud, mid-hug).

*Photos by EGK/Obama Foodorama