In a perfectly timed interview with Israel's oldest newspaper, the Top Toque describes President Obama's devotion to Jewish foods and marking Jewish holidays at the White House...
With just days left until America chooses its next leader, White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford has been put to use as a surrogate for President Obama's effort to woo Jewish voters, who could be a crucial bloc in the highly contested state of Florida, which President Obama returns to this Sunday, Nov. 4. In a new story that's billed as "a special interview" for Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper, published in Hebrew and English, Comerford discusses the President's love for traditional Jewish foods, and describes all the attention he's paid to Jewish holidays since taking office. (Above: Comerford, at right, with the President)
The President has not visited Israel since he was elected, a fact his critics point to as a profound
failure to show support, and the media has made much of the President's
"contentious" relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something the White House aggressively pushes back on. GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who has professed aggressive support for Israel, is the choice for many Jews who are single-issue voters. The President won Florida in 2008, but the electorate has changed.
The Haaretz piece is titled "Hummus is standard fare at the White House, thanks to Obama's chef," and Comerford (l) waxes poetic about the frequent use of the house-made dish at White House social events--for "every occasion pretty much," Comerford said, adding it "is one of our
go-to dips" which perfectly complements Kitchen Garden vegetables. "So, if Obama loves hummus it must mean he loves us Israelis too!" wrote Haaretz's Vered Guttman.
Comerford also describes the menus for the President's annual Hanukkah receptions and
Passover Seders, and, in yet another reminder of the President's love for Israel, she details the menu served at the reception last June for Israeli President Shimon Peres
when President Obama honored him with the Medal of Freedom.
"We did a lot of the kosher-style canapes, we had salmon, tahini, hummus, home-made pita and a lot of Middle Eastern dishes," said Comerford about the Peres reception. "It was not strict kosher, it was a kosher-style menu."
On Passover and Hanukkah:
year since taking office, President Obama has hosted a Passover seder
for a small group of friends and staffers, and Chef Comerford enjoys
preparing classic Jewish dishes for the meal, such as beef brisket and
potato latkes using old family recipes that the friends bring with them.
But the main Jewish food event at the White House is the annual Hanukkah reception.
For Hanukkah every year we have to make sure our kitchen is ‘kosherized," said Chef Comerford of the event, which is the most sought after ticket for Jewish activists and politicos. Rabbis from the local Chabad movement supervise the koshering process. "Our kitchen is transformed," she said. The process has such an attention to details that "as a chef I find it very interesting to see."
For the Hanukkah reception, Comerford and the White House kitchen staff usually prepare their regular reception menu, but with a few adjustments needed in order to obey kashrut laws. They serve salmon and chicken dishes, a variety of non-dairy pastries and grilled vegetables. The goal is also to keep the menu healthy and to "use a lot of the seasonal vegetables that are good during the winter months."
Comerford also details other Middle Eastern favorites served at the White House:
"Hummus, as it turns out, is only one of a medley
of Middle Eastern favorites served at the Obama White House. Another
dish chef Comerford is fond of is babaganush, the Middle Eastern
eggplant spread. “Eggplant is such a wonderful vegetable and there are
times when we have so many eggplants in the garden and I have to come up
with all those different ways of doing it,” she said. ”And one thing
that is very dear to me is doing the babaganush.” It's served in the
White House simply on basic croutons.
Chef Comerford also likes
to serve tabouleh, and tomato and cucumber salads, and in general she
believes the Middle Eastern diet is a healthy way of life, one that fits
the White House policy of healthy eating."
Haaretz finally endorsed the President after the food story was published. Comeford also describes her very active involvement with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, but the main point is that the President adores Jewish traditions and foods. President Obama last visited Florida on Sunday, Oct. 28, to deliver pizza to field office workers. (Above: The President at his 2009 Seder)
In a video released on Friday by the National Jewish Democratic Council, Barbra Streisand bashes Romney as she describes why she supports President Obama, noting he supports Israel and has launched the "strictest sanctions ever" against Iran. The President "shares our values," Streisand tells Jewish voters.
*Photo at top is of President Obama and Comerford at the Kids' State Dinner in August, the last White House social event. There was no hummus on the menu.
*White House photos by Pete Souza/White House. Comerford headshot by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama