Thursday, December 19, 2013

White House Pastry Chef Yosses & Floral Designer Dowling Dish On Christmas Decor

Dowling and Yosses chat from the State Dining Room
Video: Behind-the-scenes details during a special livestreamed #WHHangout...
The White House  - Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and Floral Designer Laura Dowling on Thursday afternoon chatted about First Lady Michelle Obama's Gather Around decor scheme during the first-ever holiday-themed Google+ Hangout.

Standing in the State Dining Room, the duo spoke to school children invited to participate via live video, chatting about everything from President Barack Obama's avowed love of pie, to the 300-pound Gingerbread White House, to the massive holiday cookie output and the thousands of flowers used in the mansion.  Social media users followed along on Twitter with the hashtag #WHHangout.

"President's Obama's favorite pastry is fruit pie," Yosses said.  "He loves the good old fashioned apple pie, blueberry pie and coconut cream pie." 

Pumpkin pie is her husband's #1 favorite holiday treat, according to Mrs. Obama.

First Dogs Sunny and Bo are featured in the decor elements.  Asked by a student if the real and very frisky presidential pooches "ever get in trouble messing with ornaments?,"  Yosses admitted that Sunny had a special interest in the White House gingerbread replica, which sits atop a life-sized fireplace made with 1,200 Springerle cookies.

"Sunny did try to eat the fireplace," Yosses said.  "But I was close enough that she just got in a few licks."

Bo and Sunny cookies
Sunny and Bo star as cookies on the holiday buffets that offer an American-themed dinner menu during the President and Mrs. Obama's evening holiday parties. There are currently 30 extra chefs hired for the seasonal cooking, Yosses said, with 10 joining him in the pastry shop and 20 working with Executive Chef Cris Comerford. The White House holiday cookie recipes are here.

Dowling described the flowers used in the arrangements that decorate the White House, interspersed among the 44 Christmas trees that glitter with thousands of ornaments, many made by hand.  There are some 40,000 LED lights used, she estimated.  

"We use a mix of seasonal flowers in all our arrangements," Dowling said.  "The flower we use most of all is the rose.   It's the National Flower of the United States."

Roses come in a variety of colors and are long-lasting, Dowling noted:  "Typically you'll see a lot of roses here."

A vase in the China Room features red roses
But despite roses being America's National Flower, the White House sources many of its roses from abroad, something Dowling didn't mention.  It's a distinct contrast to the longstanding tradition of serving American food and beverages at the White House.

Hydrangea, lilies, orchids, and seasonal greens and berries are also in Dowling's floral scheme, which range from small arrangements in simple, low vases to tall vases wrapped with ribbons on the party buffet tables.

There was also some Presidential history thrown into the chat: The biggest White House treat lover is former President George W. Bush, said Yosses, who was appointed sugar master in late 2006 near the end of 43's time in office.

"The President with the biggest sweet tooth is George W. Bush and I'm sure he would admit to it himself,"  Yosses said.  "He loves desserts."

13,000 guests will have attended the holiday parties by the time the President and Mrs. Obama head for Hawaii on Friday evening, for their sixth consecutive vacation on island.  Another 57,000 guests will have taken public tours of the mansion. 

The video of the Hangout:

CLICK HERE for links to all holiday posts, including new holiday recipes.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama