2011 begins with third State Visit...
UPDATE: On Jan. 5, 2011, China's Foreign Minister met with Sec. Clinton to iron out details of the visit
Just after President Obama bid "aloha" to Washington, DC, this evening and departed to join his family for vacation in Hawaii, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sent out an announcement about a major upcoming event. Reciprocating his State Visit to the People's Republic of China in November of 2009, President Obama will welcome China's President Hu Jintao to the White House on January 19, 2011, for the third State Visit of the Administration. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host a formal State Dinner in President Hu's honor on the evening of the 19th. (Above: President Obama talks with President Hu following their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada, June 26, 2010)
"The President looks forward to welcoming President Hu to Washington to continue building a partnership that advances our common interests and addresses our shared concerns," Gibbs said in the announcement.
In August, White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford visited Beijing and Hong Kong with Club des Chefs des Chefs, the elite culinary fraternity of chefs who cook for royal families and Heads of State. Comerford was with three of President Hu's Top Toques, as the group explored Asian cuisine with a series of cooking demonstrations.
President Hu honored President Obama with a State Dinner in the Gold Room of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 17, 2009. Mrs. Obama was not on that trip, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior White House officials accompanied the President, and they were also guests at the State Dinner, which featured steak and Stevie Wonder.
"President Hu’s visit will highlight the importance of expanding cooperation between the United States and China on bilateral, regional, and global issues, as well as the friendship between the peoples of our two countries," according to Gibbs. (Above: President Obama and President Hu participated in a noodlemaking demonstration during a non-state dinner at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, China, on Nov. 16, 2009. Noodles are a symbol of long life and good fortune in Chinese culture)
Third time's a charm: Will a guest chef be invited?
The East Wing, which is responsible for all the details having to do with the social elements of State Dinners, has released no information about the State Dinner with China. But Mrs. Obama honored two very different high-profile guest chefs with the invitation to join the White House chefs to cook both the first and second State Dinners, which is without question the highest American honor that can be bestowed on a chef. Mrs. Obama is the only First Lady in modern times to invite non-White House chefs into the kitchen for crucial diplomatic events.
Restaurateur, cookbook author and food TV regular Marcus Samuelsson, of New York/Chicago was the first-ever guest chef, for the November, 2009 State Dinner with India, in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Samuelsson has become a big supporter of the Let's Move! campaign; he joined Mrs. Obama at the June 4th launch ceremony on the South Lawn for Chefs Move to Schools, and was among the chefs invited to the special Kitchen Garden harvest and picnic that followed. Samuelsson also stars in a White House video about the event, with fellow celeb chefs. (Above: Mrs. Obama greets Samuelsson with a hug at the garden harvest)
Chicago's Rick Bayless, also a restaurateur, cookbook author, and food TV personality, was the guest chef for last May's State Dinner with Mexico, in honor of President Felipe Calderon. The second State Dinner went off without a hitch, but Bayless caused a stir by creating "Twittergate" during his time cooking at the White House; he was tweeting details about the State Dinner, which is a protocol no-no. Bayless also gave an interview about the event to the New York Times in advance of the East Wing releasing any information, describing some of the dishes he was going to cook and announcing the number of guests expected. No hard feelings: President Obama dined at Bayless' Topolobampo restaurant during a visit to the Windy City in October, after campaign stops for the midterm elections. Bayless tweeted the President's private dinner, too.
*Top photos by Pete Souza/White House; First Lady photo by EGK/ObamaFoodorama