An interview with White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford is featured in a new edition of the State Department's IIP Digital, an online publication from the US Embassy. Comerford, 50, was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. Now in her 16th year at the White House, she is the first woman and first Asian American to hold the post of Executive Chef, retained by President and Mrs. Obama after being appointed Top Toque during the Bush Administration. Classically trained, Comerford discusses how her own background and contemporary Asian Fusion cuisine influence her cooking, whether it is for the First Family or for the most formal events for world leaders. (Above: Comerford, c, plates a dish for the 2011 Governors' Dinner)
Comerford said Asian Fusion cuisine is now "as mainstream and as American as the proverbial apple pie" thanks to an influx of Asian immigrants to the US. Her own skills at fusing the culinary aesthetic of her home country with American traditions come most in handy when planning State Dinner menus, she said.
“When we propose a State Dinner menu for any visiting heads of state, we take into consideration, first and foremost, the First Lady’s style of entertaining, [the Obamas’] preferences, the visiting head of state’s preferences, their dietary restrictions, seasons, Kitchen Garden harvest and the time of year,” Comerford said. “Once this is established, we make a proposal that would reflect an American tradition but give a nod or a twist to the visiting country’s traditions.”
The State Dinner honoring UK Prime Minister David Cameron is a perfect example: The entree was Bison Wellington. Comerford transformed the classical British 19th century beef-in-puff-pastry dish by using North Dakota bison tenderloin as the main ingredient, which the White House described as "a perfect pairing of US and UK cultures."
Comerford's full interview:
White House Chef Blends Filipino Traditions, Modern ApproachWashington — Since the 1970s, Asian fusion cuisine — which combines elements of different cooking traditions from across Asia — has grown ever more popular in the United States, becoming a staple of contemporary U.S. restaurants from coast to coast. White House Executive Chef Cristeta “Cris” Comerford, whose cooking draws upon her own Asian heritage, believes she knows why.
by Lauren Monsen
by Lauren Monsen
Thanks to a steady influx of Asian immigrants to the United States, Asian fusion cuisine “has become as mainstream and as American as the proverbial apple pie,” Comerford said in a recent interview. She cited “the proliferation of Asian-inspired restaurants and even food trucks” in many U.S. cities and towns, and noted the availability of specialized ingredients as more U.S. farmers begin to grow Asian vegetables.
Second-generation Asian communities are often “looking for a more Americanized version of their traditions and recipes,” she said. Also, “Asian and American chefs [are] introducing and promoting these traditions as mainstream.” Comerford predicted that Asian fusion cuisine will continue to evolve, driven by customers’ tastes and preferences.
“Consumers always demand to be not just satisfied, but tickled and entertained” by a creative approach to cooking, Comerford said.
A classically trained chef of Filipino descent, Comerford has served as White House executive chef since 2005, when she was appointed to the post by then–first lady Laura Bush. In 2009, the Obamas moved into the White House and confirmed that Comerford would remain as head chef. First lady Michelle Obama has said she and Comerford share similar views on “the importance of healthy eating and healthy families.”
Comerford is the first woman and the first Asian American to hold the position of White House executive chef.
Her own recipes, Comerford said, infuse her ancestral traditions with a thoroughly modern, eclectic spirit. Using new techniques and available ingredients, she creates a version of adobo — a Filipino dish involving meat or seafood marinated in a vinegar-garlic sauce, browned in oil and simmered in its marinade — that evokes the familiar stew of her native land while adding a fresh twist to its flavors.
“My mother’s adobo, which is the Filipino national dish, is similar yet so different than mine,” she said.
“When we propose a State Dinner menu for any visiting heads of state, we take into consideration, first and foremost, the first lady’s style of entertaining, [the Obamas’] preferences, the visiting head of state’s preferences, their dietary restrictions, seasons, [the White House’s] Kitchen Garden harvest and the time of year,” she said. “Once this is established, we make a proposal that would reflect an American tradition but give a nod or a twist to the visiting country’s traditions.”