Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 White House Easter Egg Roll Preview: First Lady's Kitchen Garden Is Center Stage

Celeb chefs join WH chefs to spotlight gardening & cooking with local, seasonal foods in "Play With Your Food" activity area...& Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses goes on the record about Easter sugar...
Thanks to her Let's Move! campaign, Time magazine has named First Lady Michelle Obama to the 2011 list of 100 most influential people in the world. On Monday, about 30,000 guests will get to personally experience Mrs. Obama's influence, as they rollick around the South Lawn during the White House Easter Egg Roll. This year's theme, "Get Up and Go!," reflects Mrs. Obama's child health campaign, and all activities are designed to convince kids that healthy eating and physical fitness are not only fun, but a natural part of celebrating a holiday like Easter. (At top: The Play With Your Food station at last year's Roll; inset is the President and First Lady welcoming guests)

President Obama
and Mrs. Obama's first two Easter Egg Rolls continued a tradition started more than a century ago, and had the same focus on health and fitness. The First Lady's now-world-famous Kitchen Garden, re-planted for Spring in March, anchors the Play With Your Food area at the bottom of the South Lawn, where activity stations will focus on the benefits of seasonal, local, and organic foods. There's a Family Farmer’s Market, a Kids’ Kitchen for healthy cooking demonstrations, a Make-your-own Garden station, and a Buzzing About Bees station.

Mrs. Obama's influential message is all about moderation and balance, so sugar and sweets have not been left out of the mix, according to the First Lady's spokesman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld. Kids will receive sweet treats as they leave the event, and there will be a very special bit of sugar art on display. Play With Your Food was so popular at the 2010 Easter Egg Roll that the activity area has been expanded this year, McCormick Lelyveld said.

"We wanted it to be easier for the kids to see everything, so the stations have been re-arranged, and there are more volunteers," McCormick Lelyveld said.

The White House chefs, led by Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, will be joined by a team of celeb guest chefs to demonstrate healthy recipes that represent a range of cuisines. The recipes will reference the vegetables growing in the Kitchen Garden, so kids can make the connection between gardening and cooking.

The legendary French chef and cookbook author Jacques Pépin, restaurateur and cookbook author Art Smith, who specializes in Southern cuisine, Mexican cookbook author Marcella Valladolid, Top Chef's Carla Hall, and trainer Az Ferguson, who created the Game On! diet, will all be wielding their knives. All are now or previously TV personalities; Valladolid hosts the Food Network show "Mexican Made Easy," and Pépin has a new PBS series starting in the Fall. (Above: Smith at last year's Roll, where he demo'd recipes, and spoke about his 100+ pound weight loss, which he credited to Mrs. Obama's influence)

Other celebs who have signed on to perform at the Easter Egg Roll will also help with cooking demonstrations.

"Al Roker and Kelly Ripa will be in there, too," McCormick Lelyveld said. "Al has been in the Today show kitchen for years."

White House assistant chef Sam Kass has even cooked with Roker in that TV kitchen, and of course Roker has written cookbooks. Ripa, host of Live! With Regis & Kelly, has spent plenty of time in front of TV stoves, too.

The Buzzing About Bees station is right in front of the White House Beehive, the first hive to ever be on the grounds. The activity table will be overseen by Beekeeper in Chief Charlie Brandts, who will also have more help this year as he teaches about pollinators.

"Charlie was very busy last year, and so he's going to have visiting beekeepers to help answer the kids' questions," McCormick Lelyveld said.

The What’s in Season booth will feature seasonal produce from the White House Kitchen Garden and local organic farms. Kids can explore the different fruits and vegetables, learn about seasonal eating, and learn how to choose fresh produce. In the Make Your Own Garden booth, kids will make seedling cups from egg cartons, so they can start their own Kitchen Gardens at home. Mrs. Obama's influence will literally keep growing after the 2011 Easter Egg Roll has ended.

Sweets for eating, sweets for viewing: The sugar-spun Spring Easter Egg
As for the sweet Easter treats: Pastry chief Yosses and assistant pastry chef Susie Morrison have created a very large decorative Spring Easter Egg tableaux, a showpiece made entirely of various kinds of edible sugars, for kids to look at and take photos with. (Yosses, above, with carrots in his toque)

Yosses was still busily finishing the Spring Easter Egg this weekend, and he told Obama Foodorama that the inspiration for the oversized egg, which weighs between 150-200 pounds, was initially Fabergé eggs. But as the work progressed, his art piece became even more complicated.

"It's going to look really cool--it's a mosaic of leaves and flowers that's fine and jewel like," Yosses said. "It's one of the amusing things on the grounds for the kids to interact with, like the cartoon characters."

The color palette is pastel, in keeping with Mrs. Obama's scheme for the Easter Egg Roll, and the tableau will be positioned so the White House is in the background when kids snap photos, Yosses said.

Yosses' special candy art creation last year was an Easter Egg Farm made of chocolate and marzipan, which was melting by mid-day, thanks to unusually hot weather. This year's Spring Easter Egg was created with weather in mind, he said.

"The egg can withstand heat, and high humidity," Yosses said, adding that creating art with edible ingredients is one of his and Morrison's favorite things. Yosses' 400-pound white-chocolate covered White House Gingerbread House, for the winter Holiday celebration, was a remarkable tour de force.

"We get a kick out of these things, we go crazy," Yosses said. "It's definitely one of the funner parts of our jobs."

One of the recipes Yosses will be showing kids how to make during the cooking demonstrations is a Frozen Fruit Souffle, made with orange segments, honey, a little milk, and egg yolk, and garnished with candied walnuts. He deemed it lof in fat, and said he'd be talking about how to use healthy ingredients, even for desserts.

"We're touting nut oils and healthy nuts, like walnuts," Yosses said, adding that a small portion of dessert made with excellent fresh ingredients can be more satisfying than a big portion made with less healthier ingredients.

Every child who attends the Easter Egg Roll leaves with a (recyclable!) goody bag, and there will be a piece of candy tucked inside, McCormick Lelyveld said. The selection includes an Egg and Sour Patch bunny treat size bag, fun-size M&M pack, a Hershey Kiss, a miniature Peanut Butter cup, Swedish Fish, or Tasting gum samples (3 flavors in each pack). The goody bags will also include a commemorative wooden egg, stamped with the President and First Lady's signature, an Easter Egg Roll poster, and a piece of portable sports equipment, such as a jump rope. (The wooden eggs, above)

And of course the 2011 Easter Egg Roll will feature eggs, eggs, and more eggs, for Rolling, Hunting, and decorating. Among other kinds of eggs, 19,000 hard-boiled and dyed eggs will be used; click the link to read all about this year's eggstravaganza.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/ except for last photo; Chuck Kennedy/White House