History is made: The assistant chef also has a new title - "Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy"...
President Obama's second term in office has brought all kinds of staff changes to the White House, from Cabinet-level exits down to evacuating speechwriters. Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass isn't going anywhere, but he has been newly named the Executive Director for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. Though he's been the primary architect for the now-massive campaign since its inception, Kass has never held the formal title. The post has been vacant since December of 2011, when the second of two past Executive Directors departed after three months in office.
Kass's other title has been changed, too: He is now Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, an East Wing spokesman told Obama Foodorama. The White House made no formal announcement about the changes, but these went into effect as of March 4, the East Wing said. The titles are the fourth and fifth White House honorariums for Kass, who holds a unique position in American history: No other President and First Lady have had a chef as food policy advisor, complete with a formal title.
Kass will celebrate his 33rd
birthday in April, and like Mrs. Obama, he is a Chicago native. After working as the Obamas' private chef in the Windy City, Kass arrived at 1600 Penn with the First Couple
when they walked through the historic doors in 2009. He initially joined the kitchen team as an assistant chef, but with a policy role: Kass' first title was Food Initiative Coordinator. In 2010, this was changed to Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives. It was to better reflect Kass' many duties, the East Wing said at the time. He still cooks almost nightly for the First Family, Kass says.
Kass travels around the US constantly as an ambassador for the sweeping national campaign, now in its fourth year, as well as coordinates all stakeholder activity, meeting with everyone from grassroots activists to corporate giants and lawmakers at the White House. He is the mastermind behind Mrs. Obama's South Lawn Kitchen Garden and beehive, among many other projects, including the Chefs Move to Schools initiative, and the Let's Move Museums and Gardens component.
In 2011, Kass was named #11 on Fast Company's wide-ranging list of genius entrepreneurs, impresarios and artists, the '100 Most Creative People in Business,' cited for his "major victory" in wrangling the comprehensive Let's Move! partnership with Walmart. He also was on the shortlist of nominees for Time magazine's annual 100 Most Influential People list.
Kass has also become something of a TV star, thanks to the First Lady, with guests stints on Top Chef, Chopped, Rachael Ray Show, and many morning talk show. As a fluffy homage, Kass was included in People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People spread in 2009, where he joined Mrs. Obama and other White House staff on the list of "Barack's Beauties."
On the personal side, Kass attended University of Chicago after giving up on a dream career in Major League Baseball, and graduated with a history degree. He was trained in the culinary arts primarily in Austria, by acclaimed chef Christian Domschitz in Vienna; this followed a job cooking at the restaurant 312 Chicago
under chef Dean Zanella during college. (Above, Mrs. Obama, Kass and helpers plant dill in the Kitchen Garden during the 2012 Spring Planting)
Today, Kass remains an avid athlete, and manages to work out as much as both his bosses, who are known for their early morning hours in the gym. Kass is a frequent golf and hoops partner for President Obama, and accompanies the First Family on summer and Christmas vacations. He is also a big fan of the White House homebrewed beer, and stars in the White House video that introduced the recipes to the public, which is the most-viewed video about any White House food projects.
Check out Kass' recipe for Grilled Skirt Steak with Poblano Sauce on Sauteed Spinach; it is a favorite of the First Family, he says.
Nationally recognized pediatrician Dr. Judith Palfrey was Let's Move! Executive Director from September-December 2011. Before that, Robin Schepper was Executive Director; she joined the East Wing team in August of 2010, and departed in June of 2011.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama