Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Behind The Scenes At The French State Dinner: White House Chefs Comerford And Yosses Explain The Menu On Instagram And In A Video

Executive Chef Cris Comerford & Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses
The "Across America" menu spotlights small and family farmers and cheese artisans from 13 states, and uses ingredients from the First Lady's Kitchen Garden...
Update: CLICK HERE for the full State Dinner report Washington, DC - In a White House video released on Tuesday afternoon, Executive Chef Cris Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses give a peek behind the scenes at the elaborate preparations for the four-course "Across America" menu for President François Hollande's State Dinner.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will formally welcome the French leader to the White House this evening during a brief 8:00 PM ceremony under the North Portico.

Comerford and Yosses also "took over" the White House Instagram account on Monday, unveiling some photos of their their ingredients.  These are posted here.  The video includes scenes from harvests in Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn.  Though the District has been hit by the polar vortex, herbs from the garden and pickled vegetables from last summer's harvest are being used for the State Dinner menu.

Yosses and Comerford spent weeks creating the menu that is sure to delight the 352 expected guests.  The long process included taste tests with the First Lady and the White House Social Office.  The menu uses items from thirteen different states, with a focus on small and family farms, in keeping with Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign.

"The State Dinner celebrates the best of American cuisine," the White House said.  "This event highlights the talents of our Nation’s cheese artisans, as well as the bountiful produce grown by farmers across our country."  

The First Course:  Stars ingredients from five states.  It is American Osetra Caviar with Fingerling Potato Velouté (one of the "mother" sauces in French cuisine), Quail Eggs, and Crisped Chive Potatoes. The caviar is farmed in that other state President Obama calls home, Illinois, in tributaries of the Mississippi River.  Twelve different kinds of potatoes are used, grown in New York, Idaho and California.  The quail eggs are from Pennsylvania. 

Second Course: The Winter Garden Salad
The Second Course: "The Winter Garden Salad" features Petite Mixed Radish, Baby Carrots, and Merlot Lettuce, in a Red Wine Vinaigrette, set atop an herbed ricotta in a "terrarium" bowl. 

It is a "symbolic representation" of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden, Comerford said on Monday during the press preview, noting that the 1,500-foot plot is the most important part of the White House kitchen's aesthetic.  Thyme, sage and rosemary from the garden were used in the herbed ricotta.

"We wanted to give our guests a taste of the kitchen garden,” Comerford says in the video. "We were very fortunate that during the summer months, we had so [many] varieties of vegetables from the garden that we were able to pickle."

Jars of pickled Kitchen Garden vegetables, harvested last summer
A photo of jars of the pickled vegetables from the Kitchen Garden was tweeted on Mrs. Obama's @FLOTUS account on Monday, and in the video Comerford says pickled fennel, mustard, hot peppers and sweet spring onions will be used for the State Dinner.

"We’re incorporating a lot of these pickles into some of our canapes and some of our salad," Comerford says in the video.   

"Our garden is not just a symbol of the First Lady's initiatives on good lifestyle and healthy eating," Comerford says.  "it is actually a working platform."

Honey from the White House beehive, the first to ever be on the grounds, and installed beside the garden at Mrs. Obama's behest, is used in the salad dressing, Comerford says.  

White House Honey from 2012 and 2013: Different colors
"Each season the color of the honey changes. Here you can see the difference between 2012 and 2013," Comerford wrote with the Instagram of two bottles of White House honey, above.  The White House bees have a wide travel range, in addition to pollinating the Kitchen Garden.  The honey also tastes different each year.

Using presidential backyard bounty from the 1,500 square-foot plot and the ultra-local honey has been a tradition since the first State Dinner the Obamas hosted in 2009.  Hollande's gala is the seventh the President and Mrs. Obama will host.   

The Main Course, Dry-Aged Rib, is sourced from a family farm in Greeley, Colorado, and served with a Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese crisp.  The cheese is from Greensboro, Vermont, the artisanal end product of what the farmers dub "spoiled" Ayrshire cows.  The beef--a small, 4 1/2 ounce portion--will be accompanied by Charred Shallots, Oyster Mushrooms, and Braised Chard.

The President and Mrs. Obama are beef lovers; Friday night is "steak night" at the White House, Mrs. Obama has said.  They have served fine cuts of beef as the entree at four of their other State Dinners, and have also featured beef at all five of their annual black-tie Governor's Association Dinners. 

Yosses used a paint sprayer for the chocolate ganache cake
The Dessert Course: Yosses' desserts pays homage to Hawaii, the state where President Obama spent his boyhood.  The Hawaiian Chocolate-Malted Ganache "is a modern version of an all- American layer cake presented in a geometric form," the White House said.   

It uses bittersweet chocolate from Hawaii, tangerines from Florida, and is served à la mode with vanilla ice cream from Pennsylvania. 
Yosses dusted the chocolate onto the cake using a paint sprayer. "We're using a paint sprayer (previously unused of course) to give a micro-thin layer of chocolate over soft and creamy ganache cake," Yosses wrote on Instagram.

The presentation bowl with the Petits Fours
As a nod to French cuisine, a bowl of Petits Fours will be presented to each table during the dessert course.  These pay homage to American carnival foods and traditional cookies, Yosses said.   

"There is a great history of French culinary and pastry ties between France and America," Yosses says in the video.  "One of the signature and important parts [of the dessert] is going to be the Petits Fours."

The bowl itself is edible, and made of poured sugar to look like marble, and features homemade Cotton Candy dusted with orange zest--yes, the White House kitchen has a mini cotton candy spinner--as well as Vermont Maple Fudge, an array of chocolates, coconut macaroons, and short bread cookies made with lavender grown in Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden.  

Red sugar roses and purple sugar iris
The bowl also includes hand-pulled red sugar roses and purple sugar iris, the official flowers of the United States and France, created by Assistant Pastry Chef Susie Morrison.

"We made 38 of each--that's more than 1,800 petals!" Yosses wrote on Instagram. 

The presentation bowls for the Petits Fours were handmade in the White House pastry shop, with a mixture of granulated sugar and corn syrup that was heated and then poured while molten into a cake pan, then flipped onto a bowl so it could dry in the proper shape.  Yosses and his team are masters of sugar art, especially Morrison, whose talent was on display with the 2013 holiday Gingerbread White House, which featured thousands of sugar ornaments on the Christmas trees.

Ahead of dinner, during the cocktail hour, guests will be treated to Maine smoked trout, smoked using Maine hardwood.  Update:  It is rainbow trout from Ducktrap River of Maine in Belfast, the company excitedly announced on Wednesday after they'd read this site and gotten Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) to confirm that the trout was theirs.  The White House did not announce the sourcing for the trout.* 

Three wines will be poured...
For the first time since the President and Mrs. Obama hosted the annual Governors' Dinner in 2010, the White House has announced the wines that will be poured.  There are three.

Morlet “La Proportion Doree” 2011 from Napa Valley, California will accompany the first course.  "La Proportion Doree" translates to "the golden ratio." The family-owned winery says the wine is "an example of both art and nature," a  "unique cuvée...handcrafted using classical techniques" and "inspired by the very best producers of Bordeaux Pessac-Léognan." 

Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 from Columbia Valley, Washington will be featured with the entree.  Winemaker Alan Shoup collaborated with renowned French-born winemaker Gilles Nicault for the project of this wine, and it has gotten high marks from critics.

The sparkling Thibaut-Jannison “Blanc de Chardonnay” from Monticello, Virginia will be served with dessert.  Claude Thibaut and Manuel Janisson created this sparkling wine using the tradition from the Champagne Region of France to capture "the flavors and essence of the Virginia Terroir," according to their website.  The wine is also a critical favorite.  It was selected in part to salute the visit of President Obama and President Hollande to President Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate on Monday, the excursion that launched the State Visit.

*CLICK HERE for more details about the four-course menu and the decor.

*CLICK here for all posts about Hollande's State Visit.

*A note:  The White House didn't explain why there was no announcement for the trout sourcing, since the names of other farms were announced.  But the policy on this varies.  And it is nothing short of a miracle that the White House actually announced the names of the wines poured for this State Dinner.  That hasn't happened since 2010, when for no reason ever explained the names of wines stopped being included on released menus.   

"I’m glad the President and First Lady are showcasing small farmers for this meal, and I’m especially proud that Maine-smoked trout will be the first thing the French President tastes tonight," Rep. Pingree said in a prepared statement. 


*Photos and video by White House, except for Petits Four bowl; that's by Obama Foodorama