Friday, February 03, 2012

For White House Chef Tommy Kurpradit, A Culinary Peace Mission To Israel

Truffle diplomacy with Israeli and Palestinian chefs; American Vegetable Lasagne for gala peace dinner...
President Obama's
Executive Sous Chef, Tommy Kurpradit, is one White House kitchen master who rarely makes headlines. But he's been in the news this week in Israel: Kurpradit was on a culinary peace mission with members of the Club des Chefs des Chefs (CCC), the exclusive fraternity of chefs who work for Heads of State and Royal Families. He traveled to the Middle East in place of his boss, Executive Chef Cristeta Comeford, the official US member of the elite organization, according to East Wing spokesman Hannah August. Kurpradit toured Israel, visiting both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and cooked with Palestinian and Israeli chefs, which included a gala dinner fundraiser, “Cooking for Peace." (Above: Kurpradit preparing the dinner)

Kurpradit was joined in Israel by chefs for some of President Obama's most important allies (Germany, Russia, France) for what was billed by CCC as "truffle diplomacy." The peace dinner was held at the Herods Hotel in Tel Aviv on Feb. 1.  Kurpradit was supposed to create a dish representative of America, and in keeping with First Lady Obama's healthy-eating agenda, he chose Vegetable Lasagne.

It was a "construction of roasted and layered vegetables unified by a truffle vinaigrette," Kurpradit told the Global Post. Proceeds from the dinner went to the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, to support youth programs.

Kurpradit worked and traveled with Jerome Rigaud, a Frenchman who is head chef at the Kremlin; Ulrich Kerz, chef of the Federal Chancellory of Germany; Bernard Vaussion, head chef of the Elysee Palace, and Christian Garcia, chef to the Prince of Monaco. The culinary peace tour was hosted by Shalom Kadosh, the executive chef of the Fattal Hotels Group, described by Global Post as "a legendary chef in a nation in which the chief of state has no chef." (Above: Kurpradit, far left, displays his Vegetable Lasagne, joined by the other chefs before the peace dinner)

The Palestinian Authority does not have a chef who is a member of CCC, for the record.

Kurpradit dishes discreetly with the press...
Quizzed about why steak is the entree most frequently served at high-profile White House dinners, Kurpradit declined to comment to Global Post, but did mention that "I'm in the [Kitchen] garden every day."

The Jerusalem Post had some fun with Kurpradit, asking him if he has his own Secret Service detail, or a code name. The answer is no, "disappointing those who may have been hoping that he would reveal that his bodyguards call him “The Crepe Pan” or “The Turkey Baster,” the paper noted. Kurpradit said "no comment" when questioned about "steps taken to prevent anyone from poisoning the chief of staff, the first family, or White House dog Bo."

"Kurpradit did reveal, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, that First Lady Michelle Obama calls the shots around the White House kitchen in that the menu is heavily inspired by her healthy-foods initiative," the paper reported.

Kurpradit's trip included a visit to Jerusalem's famed central market, and lunch with his fellow chefs at the trendy Machaneyuda restaurant, where he sat beside Rigaud and enjoyed "a rapidly served blast of dishes including an haute cuisine iteration of Israel's classic hummous with meat, polenta and truffles, seared drumfish and grouper fished at Jaffa port brief hours before, trays of meat and fish tartars and sweetbreads— followed by an array of eight desserts," according to Global Post. (Above: Kurpradit shows off his plate of hummus and meat)

Kurpradit has worked alongside Comerford at the White House since the Bush Administration.  She is the only woman chef who is a member of CCC, and she has visited China and Russia with the group since the Obamas moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. CCC president Gilles Brunner, the onetime chef to Prince Rainier of Monaco, said the group now includes chefs of heads of state from 30 countries. The Club was founded in 1977 by French culinary uniform designer Gilles Bragard, and the group's members have served dozens of world leaders and royalty. They meet annually in different countries, and operating under the motto “politics divides men, but a good meal unites them.” Germany will be the host country for the next meeting.

East Wing spokesman August said she wasn't sure if the White House paid Kurpradit's expenses for the trip.

*With thanks to Noga Tarnopolsky of Global Post; lunch photo by Tarnopolsky. Group photo by Yoni Reif/Jerusalem Post; top photo by Nir Elias/Reuters