Washington, DC - President Barack Obama would have been an architect if he had the talent and creativity of the eleven winners of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards, First Lady Michelle Obama said on Friday as she welcomed about 180 guests to an East Room luncheon saluting the honorees. (Above, with Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough)
"The President is so jealous right now, because I always get to host this," Mrs. Obama said. "Because really, deep down, he would have been an architect had he been as talented and creative as all of you."
"From the president to you, he loves you all, he loves your work, he loves everything about every ounce of who you are, and so it is a delight to have you here," said Mrs. Obama, clad in a sleeveless burgundy sheath dress and flanked by Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough and Caroline Baumann, Director of Cooper-Hewitt.
"I always look forward to this event because it’s a chance to celebrate some of our country’s finest innovators and most creative minds."
Guests sat at round tables for ten, perched on designer Philippe Starck's translucent "Ghost" chairs as they dined from Ronald Reagan State China, feasting on Executive Chef Cris Comerford's intricate locally sourced menu.
Mrs. Obama also pointed to her husband as she noted that the winners, experts in disciplines ranging from landscape design to information technology, offer lessons in hard work and persistence. Her guests included a dozen high school students from New York and DC, invited because of their interest in design.
"I think it’s important for all of our young people to see firsthand that in order to achieve your dreams, you’ve got to be willing to take some risks and to put yourself in a position where you might fail," Mrs. Obama said. "That’s the story of anybody who’s ever been successful."
"My husband...lost his first race for Congress, and he lost by a lot--I mean a whole lot," Mrs. Obama continued, to laughter. "It wasn’t even close. But he learned from that experience and went on to win a Senate seat four years later and a few other things."
Mrs. Obama said the honorees are "inviting us to push our boundaries, to stretch our imaginations," and quoted Communication Design winner Paula Scher, a principal in the international design consultancy Pentagram.
"She said, 'You have to misbehave to make breakthroughs,'" Mrs. Obama declared, and then made sure her young guests understood the message.
"Let me clarify, to all of the young people here -- our future designers and inventors--what Paula is talking about is taking risks, not breaking laws," Mrs. Obama said, to more laughter.
The honorees, she pointed out, "aren’t simply designing beautiful buildings and parks and products, they’re also thinking about how they can work to help create more sustainable environments, more vibrant cities, and a more active and participatory society."
"They’re leaving a lasting impression on our hearts, in our minds, and in the way we see the world," Mrs. Obama said.
Mrs. Obama closed by bidding an early farewell to Clough, who will step down from his post next year, hailing him as "a visionary leader."
Clough joined the First Lady at the Head Table in the center of the room with James Wines, Lifetime Achievement honoree and founder and president of SITE, a New York-based architectural studio; his daughter Suzanne Wines; William Aung, 17, a student at New York's Stuyvesant High School; Baumann and her mother Priscilla Baumann; honoree for Product Design Gadi Amit and his wife Elionar Almagor; and Walter Hood, a landscape architect and 2009 honoree. (Above, Amit is at left; Wines has his back to camera)
Other notable guests included fashion mentor and Project Runway host Tim Gunn, and clothing designer Isabel Toledo, whose creations have been worn by Mrs. Obama (at left). Toledo and her husband/partner Ruben Toledo, also a guest, served on the jury for this year's selection committee.
Ahead of the luncheon, they and the winners joined hundreds of teens at the Smithsonian's International Gallery for the Teen Design Fair, run annually in conjunction with the First Lady's award ceremony at the White House.
Chef Comerford's menu opened with Charcoal-Grilled Apricots with Virginia Cured Ham, Microgreens and Green Hat Gin Vinaigrette (above), followed by Ten Herb Ravioli with English Pea Puree and Speck Lardons, and Wagyu Beef with Roasted Cauliflower Pudding,
Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses' sweet finish was a Roasted Apple Mille-Feuille with Sesame Caramel Ice Cream and Lemon Curd. A single wine was poured: Lewis Chardonnay "Russian River" 2010.
The Reagan china set has a bright red border and cream center, which fit perfectly with the on-trend color scheme, which featured black and white tablecloths in three patterns: Houndstooth, square medallions, and circle medallions. Flatware was silver and stemware was crystal; napkins were white.
Tiny jars of honey from the beehive that sits beside Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn were at each place setting as hostess gifts for the guests. Each was wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a bright bow matching the color scheme, and had a label noting its origin. (Above, one of the honey jars)
The program and menu had a black cover with the gold Presidential seal and gold braid. A single large floral arrangement sat in the center of all eighteen tables, each in a matte black vase. The bright flowers were a mix of roses, orchids, Gerber daisies, and dahlias, twined with ivy. Similar arrangements dotted windowsills and fireplace mantels, interspersed with potted green ferns.
Virginia Cured Ham
Green Hat Gin Vinaigrette
Ten Herb Ravioli
English Pea Puree
Roasted Cauliflower Pudding
Roasted Apple Mille-Feuille
Sesame Caramel Ice Cream
Wine: Lewis Chardonnay "Russian River" 2010
A military quartet played in the Cross Hall ahead of the luncheon during a cocktail reception, where guests could select wine, beer, and soda from a bar. (Above, one of the tables, with the "Ghost'"chairs)
*The transcript of the First Lady's remarks.
*CLICK HERE to read the bios of the 2013 winners.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama