Tuesday: Mrs. Obama has rarely hosted media previews for high-profile White House dinners; the one for German Chancellor's Official Visit to President Obama will be special...
The longstanding tradition of First Ladies welcoming journalists into the White House before high-profile dinners to preview the menu, table settings and entertainment is not something First Lady Michelle Obama has regularly engaged in. On Tuesday afternoon, hours ahead of the elegant black tie State Dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel that will be the glamorous finish to her Official Visit to President Obama, Mrs. Obama will hold what is just her third formal domestic details preview for reporters. (Above: Mrs. Obama during the last State Dinner, in honor of China's President Hu Jintao)
Other First Ladies, such as Mrs. Laura Bush and Mrs. Ronald Reagan (her preferred form of address), personally hosted menu previews for virtually every high-profile dinner they hosted. Mrs. Obama has put her own stamp on the role of First Lady, and has not frequently engaged in such activities, leaving it to her staff to discuss these details with the media.
Tuesday's dinner preview will be done at the end of an educational event Mrs. Obama is hosting for local young women, who have been invited to the State Dining Room to hear the First Lady and Ambassador Brooke Anderson, National Security Staff Chief of Staff, speak about the importance of women in diplomacy. Mrs. Obama's two previous menu previews for high-profile dinners were also done in conjunction with educational events for young women.
Merkel is the first female head of government and the first European leader to make an Official Visit to the President, and it follows her own history making in Germany. Now 56, in 2005 Merkel became both the first woman and the first East German to be elected Chancellor of a unified Germany, after she was raised under the Communist regime. At the dinner, President Obama will present Merkel with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom he awarded her earlier this year, during a ceremony Merkel was unable to attend.
In a new interview with Der Tagesspiegel, his first with a German news outlet, President Obama hails Merkel as "a genuine friend of America," and "an inspiration."
"She embodies the promise of freedom and the opportunities of democracy," President Obama said.
Mrs. Obama is expected to embroider on that theme during her event, which will be attended by young women from Banneker High School in Washington, DC, Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland, the Girl Scouts and Girls Inc.
An Official Visit vs. a State Visit...and other menu details...
Merkel's visit is an "Official Visit" because she is a Head of Government rather than a Chief of State. An East Wing aide told Obama Foodorama that the only significant difference between the two types of visits is the gun salute during the pomp-and-circumstance-filled morning Arrival Ceremony at the White House. Merkel will receive 19 blasts from canons located at the bottom of the South Lawn, while 21 is the number of rounds fired for State Visits.
The dinner is being called a State Dinner "because the President is hosting it," an East Wing aide told ObFo, when queried about the appropriate terminology.
State Dinners, in other Administrations, were exclusively white tie, and the term was generally used only during State Visits. The dinner will be created using vegetables Mrs. Obama harvested on Friday from the Kitchen Garden. There is unconfirmed word that the dinner, like the State Dinner for India, will be held outdoors, on the South Lawn. All details have so far been kept under tight wraps; unlike for the three previous State Dinners, there have been few info leaks. Merkel's dinner is the first under the guiding hand of Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, the third person to hold the post in two and a half years.
The President has been to Germany twice while in office, but has never made a formal visit to Berlin. There have been many other meetings, too. Merkel's visit "will be the 10th time we have had face-to-face discussions since I became president and that’s in addition to our frequent conversations by telephone and video teleconference," President Obama told Der Tagesspiegel.
The President and the Chancellor last met during the G8 in Deauville, France, in late May.
The First Lady's other menu preview events were also educational...
The First Lady's two previous previews for high-profile dinners were for the 2009 Governors Ball, when local female culinary students (and members of the media) visited the White House kitchen. For the 2009 State Dinner in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, young women involved in Mrs. Obama's White House mentoring program got a history lesson from Mrs. Obama and White House curator Bill Allman--and a dessert tasting--in what doubled as a dinner preview for journalists.
The two other menu previews for previous State dinners were conducted by Mrs. Obama's East Wing staff, and there were no menu previews for the two subsequent Governors' Dinners. White House aides alerted the media to the details for the President and First Lady's recent Return State Dinner in London, in honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama