Tuesday, January 08, 2013

For President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Luncheon, Focusing On The Future And Spotlighting Farm-To-Table Sourcing

Sen. Chuck Schumer dishes on the local, sustainable and artisan foods for the 57th Inauguration...

By Marian Burros
Senior White House Correspondent

Will President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama notice the baby golden beets at the traditional Inaugural Luncheon following the swearing-in on Monday, January 21st?  Or will the steely eyed Navy Mess Specialists, who travel with the President and make sure no one has tampered with his food, note the faux pas and whisk the offending beets off the plates before the Obamas see them? 
The luncheon for the first time this year breaks with the tradition of serving dishes honoring past Presidents, and is instead celebrating the theme of the inauguration, "Faith in America’s Future."  The food at President Obama's first Inaugural Luncheon was an homage to Abraham Lincoln, but this year's exquisite menu is an homage to the current buzzwords artisanal, sustainable and, where possible, local.

The luncheon will be held  in Statuary Hall in the Capitol.  It takes six months to organize and sixty minutes to eat.  Limited to 225 guests from the highest echelons of government, plus Malia and Sasha Obama, an invitation is so coveted that Very Important People, who have not been invited, often show up and expect to be seated.  

That’s why Dot Svendson, from the office of the Secretary of the Senate who is responsible for the logistics, has two complete place settings on standby and instructs staff to find a seat for the truly VIP crashers who can make it past the Capitol police without an invitation.
Hickory Grilled Bison with Wild Huckleberry Reduction
The lightning pace of the luncheon, which includes toasts, speeches, and a gift presentation for the President and Vice President Joe Biden, is especially too bad this year because the contemporary menu that begins with a sparkling riff on New England seafood, a succulent tail from a Maine lobster atop a light but rich clam chowder sauce is so well done, it should be savored, not gobbled. 

 It is followed by hickory smoked sliced bison tenderloin with a wild huckleberry sauce, accompanied by a red potato horseradish cake, pureed Butternut squash, and sautéed red cabbage, sweetened with a little strawberry preserve, a nod to the return of canning to the American kitchen.  And those tiny golden beets, with green beans.

The finishing note is President Obama's favorite dessert, pie, which stars on every Obama celebration menu.  Gloriously done: Individual "Hudson Valley" apple pies, topped with sour cream ice cream, a maple caramel sauce, and accompanied by a bit of honeycomb and wedges of Toma Celena and Jersey Girl Colby, both from Cooperstown Cheese Company.   *CLICK HERE FOR THE LUNCHEON RECIPES
Except for the beets, the Obamas should be delighted with the meal.  Mrs. Obama is the nation's foremost gardening advocate and beekeeper, and she has also spotlighted farm-to-table sourcing for her own special luncheons and dinners.  And the First Couple
served bison last year at the White House for the State Dinner for the United Kingdom, the final grand fete of the President's first term.

“Mrs. Obama wants farm to table as much as possible," said William Homan, co-owner of Design Cuisine, the catering company in Arlington, Va. that has prepared  many other inaugural lunches.

Sen. Schumer with Chef Shaffer

New York agriculture in the spotlight...
Led by Executive Chef Shannon Shaffer, the caterer scoured the countryside.  There was a particular interest in all things New York because the Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which puts on the meal, is New York's senior Senator Charles Schumer(Above, the Senator with the chef)

Schumer’s chairmanship has given him a bully pulpit for New York state agriculture. Which accounts for the clams, apples, cheeses, honey, maple syrup, red and white wines that are on the menu. If the weather holds, there may be New York squash as well.  The honey, now from Seaway Trail Honey near Lake Ontario, was originally from an urban apiary in Brooklyn that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. 
The bison, however, originates in South Dakota.
"New York agriculture is booming anew," said Schumer at a small tasting lunch last week in the Russell Senate office building. 

"One of the things I hope to do is hype that. It means good, local, artisanal jobs and new career paths. The food we are serving is an example of the resurgence."

Reminded that sustainable, artisanal agriculture is not favored by agribusiness, Schumer paused and then said: "This is OUR future."

At the tasting the Senator began by sampling and raving about the Tierce 2009 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling that is perfect with the lobster.  "Amazing," Schumer said, urging the reporter to try it as well as the award-winning Bedell Cellars 2009 Merlot from Long Island that will be served with the bison.

“Our wine industry is where California was ten or fifteen years ago," he said, possibly a slight exaggeration.

Purposely eating no breakfast, Schumer tucked into the lobster, one bite became two and pretty soon there was none left.  He had several bites of the bison tenderloin with its wild huckleberry reduction and its accompanying vegetables, including those little yellow beets.

"That bison is great," Schumer marveled.  "You know bison is very good for you, less fat than beef."

After posing for pictures putting together a dessert plate of pie, ice cream, cheeses, honey, honey comb and maple syrup, the Senator polished that off.  The only thing missing was the
Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne (California).

Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream
 Flowers and linens...
The contemporary theme is also being carried out in the choice of linens and flowers.  Instead of damask cloths, the fabric is a contemporary geometric pattern of cerulean blue, bronze and platinum. The napkins are white linen hemstitch.  Even the napkin fold has gone modern, a simple pocket fold instead of the elaborate Queen of Sweden style that takes four minutes per napkin and requires the use of a knife to make the sharp pleats.  

The flowers, by Jack H. Lucky Floral Designs, Inc., of Arlington, Va., are coral and salmon Free Spirit roses.  The entree and desert place settings are rectangular.

Service has been changed from French, in which guests help themselves from platters that are passed by waiters to plated service, like restaurant service, a change that was made by the White House during the Clinton Administration.

It's a long way from the first inaugural lunch Congress served to President William McKinley in 1897, which starred corned beef sandwiches.

According to the committee, some of the New York producers who will have their items featured on the menu include Crown Maple of Dover Plains, for maple syrup; Golden Harvest Farms of Valatie, for the apples; Seaway Trail Honey, near Lake Ontario, for the seasonal, certified kosher honey and honeycomb;  and Cooperstown Cheese Company of Milford, for the artisan cheeses with dessert, Toma Celena and Jersey Girl Colby.  The bison is from Western Buffalo Company in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Lobster Tail with New England Clam Chowder Sauce

President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Luncheon Menu

Steamed Lobster
with New England Clam Chowder Sauce

Served on Sauteed Spinach 
with Sweet Potato Hay

Wine:  Tierce 2009 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling (NY)

Hickory Grilled Bison
with Wild Huckleberry Reduction

Strawberry Preserve and Red Cabbage
Red Potato Horseradish Cake

Baby Golden Beets and Green Beans

Butternut Squash Purée 

Wine: Bedell Cellars 2009 Merlot (Long Island, NY)

Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream
with Maple Caramel Sauce

Aged Cheeses and Honeycomb
Toma Celena and Jersey Girl Colby,  
Cooperstown Cheese Company (Milford, NY)

Wine:  Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne (California)


For information on the history of presidential inaugurations, check out the website for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

*Photos by Brendan Hoffman; top photo by Scout Tufankjian, Obama for America.