Chinese delegation wants the ultimate American experience, East Wing says...
Update: The menu is here; it's Lobster, Steak & Potatoes, Apple Pie...
There will be no celeb guest chef joining the White House chefs in the kitchen this evening, when President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host the State Dinner in honor of China's President Hu Jintao. Instead, Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses have created and will cook the evening's menu, ObFo is told by the East Wing. (Comerford, above)
The two previous State Dinners hosted by the President and First Lady each featured the services of celeb guest chefs, but the Obamas seem to be getting back to the basics. There's no huge pavilion built on the South Lawn for tonight's formal event, either, as there was for the other State Dinners.
What there will be is pure Americana inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: At the request of the Chinese delegation, the White House has arranged a "quintessentially American" evening for President Hu, complete with a menu, décor, and entertainment that reflect some of the nation's most recognizable offerings. All the details, including the guest list, will be revealed later this afternoon, during a media preview.
But an East Wing spokesman said that the guest list will comprise a broad cross-section of people, including prominent Chinese-Americans, cultural figures, business leaders, people who are of note in the history of US-China relations, and people who have spoken out on issues relating to human rights and the rule of law. The guest list will be small: The 7:35 PM State Dinner will be in the State Dining Room, which has a seating capacity of 140 people. A Reception will follow in the East Room at 8:55 PM.
President Hu will be formally welcomed by the President and Mrs. Obama to the White House at 6:00 PM, for another Arrival Ceremony, this time under the North Portico.
Comerford and Yosses, of course, are a well-oiled machine: They've cooked together at the White House for years. And lately, they've been teaching cooking to DC school kids, too. The two Top Toques adopted Tubman Elementary School last September, as part of Mrs. Obama's Chefs Move To Schools initiative, a nation-wide program that pairs professional chefs with local schools. Since then, Comerford and Yosses have visited Tubman regularly to give cooking lessons and teach nutrition education, and they have developed "a special relationship" with parents, faculty and students, according to the East Wing.
The last time Comerford cooked a State Dinner without a guest chef was in September of 2008, when President George W. Bush honored Ghana's President John Agyekum Kufuor for the final State Visit of the presidency.
For the first Obama State Dinner, held in November of 2009, in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Comerford was joined by TV personality and cookbook author Marcus Samuelsson of New York (the full menu is here). For the second State Dinner, held in May of 2010, in honor of President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, Chicago's Rick Bayless joined the White House chefs (the full menu is here). He, too, is a TV personality and cookbook author.
Comerford, a native of the Philippines, has been Executive Chef for more than five years, and is the first woman and first minority to serve in the position at the White House. After serving as Assistant Chef during the Clinton Administration, First Lady Laura Bush appointed her to the position in August 2005.
Comerford attended the University of the Philippines to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Food Technology before emigrating to the US at the age of 23. Her 26 years of culinary experience include fine dining restaurants in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Austria, Napa Valley, and France. As a member of the Club des Chefs des Chefs, an association of chefs who serve Heads of State, Chef Comerford represented the United States last August for the group's trip to Beijing, China. There, she exchanged ideas with other top chefs, learned about global cuisine, and experienced Chinese culture. Comerford lives in Columbia, Maryland, with her husband, John, and 9-year-old daughter, Danielle.
Yosses has served as White House Executive Pastry Chef since January of 2007, and he has been nicknamed 'the Crust Master' by President Obama. After attending cooking school at New York City College of Technology, Bill Yosses' first job was in a Lyonnais style restaurant in Paris, called La Foux d'Alose. It was "love at first bite," sparking a passion for cooking, baking, and eating that continues today. He later returned to New York, working as pastry chef at Bouley Restaurant and Citarella Restaurant. (Above: Yosses at the Fall Harvest, eating salad with Tubman students)
In 2006, Yosses channeled his interest in promoting quality food in America by working on the opening of The Dressing Room Restaurant, in Westport, Connecticut. Conceived by actor/philanthropist Paul Newman and Chef Michel Nischan, the restaurant promotes sustainability with its menu and operations. Additionally, in 2005, Bill helped develop a program in New York City Schools with Spoons Across America called "The Dinner Party Project" which teaches schoolchildren about better food choices.
Last summer, Yosses published "The Perfect Finish," a wonderful cookbook that contains his favorite recipes.