Sunday, February 27, 2011

The White House Rolls Out The Red Carpet: The Obamas Host The 2011 Governors' Dinner

President Obama jokes about the Oscars during black tie affair, as he cameos on Academy Awards telecast via video; The President's toast, the menu, the special elementary school guest chefs...
On Sunday evening, shortly after 7:00 PM, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed US governors and their spouses, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, and a smattering of Cabinet Secretaries to the 2011 Governors' Dinner. It was the President and Mrs. Obama's third time hosting the annual black-tie affair, and this year, it married bipartisan socializing with glamour and the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign: Students from DC's Tubman Elementary School assisted the White House chefs in preparing the four-course Surf n' Turf menu, using crops from the Kitchen Garden and honey from the White House Beehive. The dishes, like the gathering of Governors, represented regions from across the nation. (Above: The First Lady looks on as the President welcomes their guests)

The special fete comes each year during the Winter Meeting of the National Governors Association in DC. President Obama--like most men in the room--wore a bow tie and tux, with female guests clad in gowns. The Academy Awards were being held simultaneously in Hollywood, and also happened to be followed by an annual Governor's Ball.

"I know some of you may be confused and think this is the Oscars," President Obama joked as he welcomed his guests.

"There are some similarities," President Obama said, to laughter. "First of all everyone looks spectacular, and the second thing is if I speak too long the music will start playing."

The President didn't mention that shortly after he made his remarks at the dinner, he was appearing via video on the Academy Awards global telecast. Before the winner for Best Original Song was announced, a pre-taped clip of the President aired as part of a montage of interviews in which notables shared their favorite cinematic tunes. President Obama hailed "As Time Goes By," which runs as a leitmotif through "Casablanca," as his favorite film song of all time. The song is performed by Dooley Wilson in the 1942 film, and is number two on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best songs in film.

The First Lady could have been walking the red carpet at the Oscars: She wore a floor-length, bright green, one-shoulder gown designed by Prabal Gurung, with long dangling earrings featuring magenta, green and orange flowers. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who wore his customary bolo tie, was the standout among male guests for natty attire. (Above: The First Lady listens as the President makes his toast)

As he spoke, President Obama stood below the famous portrait of President Abraham Lincoln that hangs in the State Dining Room. NGA chair Gov. Christine Gregoire (D-WA) was seated to the President's left. He said he knew the last years haven't been easy in some states, thanks to the troubled US economy--some Governors nodded at this--but added that he was sure that despite differences, common ground could be found as America moves forward.

"The main message I want to deliver tonight, in addition to asking you to have some fun this evening, is to know that you’ve got a partner here in the White House," President Obama said. "One thing that we all absolutely share is the belief in the American Dream and the confidence that when our people get opportunities, they’ve got the ingenuity and the stick-to-it-ness and the drive to succeed."

Guests sat at round tables for ten topped with pink, blue and orange patterned tablecloths. Tall candles and pink and orange floral centerpieces, made with roses and greens, anchored each table. Boosting the springtime theme: The china used for the evening was the Lyndon Johnson State China Service, which features American wild flowers around the border, with a presidential eagle in the center. (Above: Mrs. Obama toasts with Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass), who was seated at the head table)

Gregoire got a shout out from the President before he raised his glass, which as is his habit, contained water for the toast.

"I want to propose a toast: Not only to all the governors who are here, but also to all their spouses, who put up with life in politics," President Obama said, to more laughter. "It’s not always easy, but I hope your families, given all the sacrifices you’re making, feel that it’s worth it, because I certainly believe that the work that you’re doing each and every day is making an extraordinary contribution to our country."

Gregoire toasted next, thanking President Obama "for your tremendous leadership, through what is a very, very challenging time for our country." She also praised Mrs. Obama for spreading the message of supporting U.S. troops and military families, a key initiative in her portfolio as First Lady. Click here for the full text of both toasts.

Gladys Knight and the Marine Corps Band performed in the East Room following dinner.

The menu, the special guest chefs...
The evening's meal was a major symbol of the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign, the other initiative that is closest to Mrs. Obama's heart. (Above: A longview of the State Dining Room)

Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, and assistant chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass have adopted Tubman Elementary School as their own school under the First Lady's Chefs Move to Schools initiative, which matches professional chefs with public schools. It was the first time the Tubman kids--or any kids--have joined the Chefs to prepare a high-profile White House dinner, and it included harvesting winter spinach and other greens and herbs from Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden, as well as working on the pastry side of the kitchen, to create the dessert.

2011 Governors' Dinner Menu

White House Kitchen Garden Salad
Roasted Pears, House Made Ricotta, Walnut Crisps

Scallops with Spiced Mango Chutney

“Surf and Turf”
Local Black Angus Beef with Blue Crab
Black Beans and Rice, Plantain Chips

Coconut Sorbet in a Chocolate Shell
Poached Tropical Fruits made with White House Honey

American wines from California, Washington and New York were served with each course, but these were not identified by name.

Guests sipped cocktails in the White House foyer before dinner, to the musical stylings of red-uniformed Marines.

The White House video of the President's Toast:

Related: The menus for the 2010 Governors' Dinner is here; and the menu for the 2009 Governors' Dinners is here.

*Photos by Getty; White House video