Sunday, February 26, 2012

President Obama, First Lady Host 2012 Governors' Dinner: The Details, The Guests, The Menu...

President praises Governors for hard work, and advises that a White House whiskey barrel is ready to calm down "rowdy" behavior...
President Obama
on Sunday night announced that he was looking for "some fun" at the annual black-tie Governors' Dinner, telling a story about wild times at the White House and barrels of whiskey as he toasted his guests. The dinner was the fourth and final affair for America's state leaders that the President and First Lady Obama will host in this term, and their first formal affair of 2012. They were seated at tables on opposite sides of the fireplace in the flower and candle-filled State Dining Room. As was the case for previous Governors' Dinners, the menu starred traditional American favorites, regionally sourced, including Rib Eye Steak and Maryland Crab Macaroni and Cheese. (Above: The toast)

Promising the Governors that they have "a strong partner" in the White House, President Obama also promised a good time.

"Tonight it’s about having some fun," the President said. "I want everybody to have a great time tonight."

The Governors are visiting Washington for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association. Mrs. Obama wore a one-shouldered tulle and silk bisque-colored gown covered in beadwork, her hair in an up-do, with large bejewelled earrings. Dinner started with a salad made from greens plucked from her Kitchen Garden, and the centerpiece Rib Eye Steak is an Obama tradition: Beef has been the entree of choice for all high-profile dinners. Vocalist Dianne Reeves performed after the Pear Tart with Ice Cream dessert was served.

After lauding the Governors for their "hard work"--and their looks ("you all look clean up very well")--the President told a story about President Andrew Jackson's inauguration, when crowds flooded into the historic rooms, threatening to "crush" the new Commander in Chief.

"As things started getting out of hand, the staff decided to pass barrels of ice cream and whiskey out the window to get people out on the lawn, so they wouldn’t cause damage and break the chandeliers and the furniture," President Obama said, to laughter.

"So I just want you to know, in case things get rowdy, we also have a barrel standing by."

Previous Governors' Dinners have included the President leading Conga lines through the East Room. The President's possibly rowdy guests included Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, NGA chairman Dave Heineman, Republican of Nebraska; co-chair Jack Markell of Delaware; Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, a National Co-chair for the President's re-election campaign; California's Jerry Brown; New Jersey's Chris Christie (seated at Biden's table); Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie; South Carolina's Nikki Haley; Louisiana's Bobby Jindal; Maryland's Martin O'Malley, and Virginia's Bob McDonnell, chair of the Republican Governors Association.

One notable absentee: Arizona's Jan Brewer, now famous for a tarmac tete-a-tete with the President. Brewer announced Sunday morning on NBC's Meet the Press that she would not attend the dinner due to "other commitments."

The President sat beside Maryland's First Lady Catherine Curran O'Malley at his table, while Mrs. Obama was seated beside McDonnell at her table. He announced on Sunday morning that the Governor's Mansion in Virginia now has a Kitchen Garden, inspired by his host's. The Governors will be at the White House on Monday, to talk policy in separate meetings with the President and the First Lady.

Tablecloths for the round tables for ten were gold brocade, and the floral centerpieces varied from table to table. Some were low, with green blooms with white roses, ranunculus, and ivy; others were purple, pink and mauve roses. Magenta votive candles dotted each table, beneath larger white candles in tall blue glass holders. Larger floral arrangements, in purple, pink and and mauve hues, lined the mantle of the fireplace and windowsills. The George W. Bush State China Service was used. (Above: The Vice President, left, toasts with Christie)

"I've always said that governors have one of the best but also one of the toughest jobs around," the President said. "On the one hand you guys are in charge, which means that folks know where you live and they know how to find you if something doesn't work." (Above: Mrs. Obama toasts with McDonnell)

"But you're also in a position to make real and lasting change every single day. You're where the rubber hits the road."

The President has used that particular descriptive phrase in each of his previous toasts at the Governors Dinners.

"Cheers, everybody...I hope you guys have a wonderful time. Let’s serve it up," the President said as he ended his toast.

Heineman in his response toast thanked the President and Mrs. Obama for their service to the nation and for their hospitality, and he defended the Governors' honor. (Above: The President, at right, watches Heineman toasting)

"I want you to know this is not a rowdy group. They’re on their best behavior tonight," Heineman said.

The Nebraska native hailed the dinner, too.

"I can say personally, as a young man growing up in Wahoo, Nebraska, I never dreamed that I'd be here in the White House tonight," Heineman said.

The White House did not release the names of the wines that accompanied the dinner, but in keeping with tradition, these were American. Keeping secret the names of wines poured at important dinners has gone on for months, and has included not naming the wines poured at the A Nation's Gratitude Dinner, the last two State Dinners, and the Return State Dinner in London, England.  The White House has given no reason for excluding the names of wines.  White wine was on the tables during the President's toast, though he raised a glass of water.  

Executive Chef Cris Comerford prepared the dinner; her recipe for No-Cream Creamed Spinach, served with the entree, is here.

The 2012 Governors' Dinner Menu

South Lawn Kitchen Garden Salad

Rib Eye Steak
Creamed Spinach
Maryland Crab Macaroni & Cheese

Pear tart
with Ice Cream

The toasts:

*The transcript of the President's toast remarks

Related: These posts about the three previous Governors Dinners include menus: The 2011 Governors' Dinner; the 2010 Governors' Dinner; and the 2009 Governors' Dinner.

*Pool photos
by AP/Getty