Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The State Dinner Menu For President Hollande: The Obamas Spotlight Small And Family Farmers

Executive Chef Cris Comerford displays the salad course
"Across America" menu represents bounty from thirteen states and the White House Kitchen Garden, and mingles French and US cuisine...About 350 guests are expected...Singer Mary J. Blige makes her White House debut...but there are no plans for dancing...
Update 2: CLICK HERE for the full State Dinner report
Update 1:  A White House video about the menu
Washington, DC President François Hollande will be treated to a four-course menu that spotlights some of America's best small and family farmers and talented food artisans when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama celebrate the US-France alliance on Tuesday night with the State Dinner in his honor. 

Maine trout, Illinois caviar, Colorado Rib-Eye steak, and bounty grown on the historic White House grounds will be served to delight the guest of honor, accompanied by three specially selected American wines that would please even the most discriminating French oenophile.  

About 350 guests are expected for the most important and lavish diplomatic social event the President and Mrs. Obama have hosted in nearly two years, according to a Senior Administration Official.

The two Presidents will toast each other and the centuries-old ties that have transformed into what they have deemed a model for international partnership from the stage of a well-appointed and massive, dramatically lit indoor pavilion on the South Lawn.  The White House calls the structure a "tent," but it is to a tent as the Flintstone's car is to a hybrid of a Maserati and a Rolls Royce.  More on the decor below.

Grammy-award winning R&B singer Mary J. Blige will give a command performance after the dinner.  The Bronx-born singer is making her debut at the White House.

Designed to spotlight the best of US cuisine and producers as it salutes the culinary traditions of France, the menu selected by the First Lady and created by Executive Chef Cris Comerford has an "Across America" theme and features bounty from thirteen states, including the two bookends, California and Maine.  There's even a nod to Monticello, Virginia, where the two Presidents kicked off the State Visit on Monday afternoon. 

"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."

Honey from the White House beehive, as well as herbs and pickled vegetables from Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden--the ultimate small family farm--are also featured.  Using presidential backyard bounty from the 1,500 square-foot plot has been a tradition since the first State Dinner the Obamas hosted in 2009.  Hollande's is their seventh.

The First Course alone 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.  

"The Winter Garden Salad" will be served in a mini-terrarium
The Second Course, "The Winter Garden Salad," features Petite Mixed Radish, Baby Carrots, and Merlot Lettuce, in a Red Wine Vinaigrette.  It is a symbolic representation of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden, and uses herbs from her South Lawn plot. 

Despite the polar vortex, the Kitchen Garden still has winter greens growing, but not enough to serve the hundreds of guest invited to the State Dinner, so the herbs that remain--thyme, sage, and rosemary--are being used in the herbed ricotta that is at the base of the individual "terrarium" bowl that will hold each salad.  Comerford--and Mrs. Obama--have a fondness for terrariums.

White House honey--from the historic first beehive ever on the grounds--is used for the salad dressing. 

The Main Course, Dry-aged Rib Eye Beef, 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.

Ahead of dinner, during the cocktail hour, guests will be treated to Maine smoked trout, smoked using Maine hardwood.   Vegetables pickled after being plucked during last summer's voluptuous harvest of the Kitchen Garden will also be used for canapes during the cocktail hour.

Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses hold Petits Fours
Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses has an undergraduate and graduate degree in French literature, and speaks fluently; he became interested in cooking when doing his graduate work in Paris, and then trained there with acclaimed chefs, including a legendary pastry master. 

Yosses' dessert pays homage to President Obama's homestate:  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 combines bittersweet chocolate from Hawaii, tangerines from Florida, and is served à la mode with vanilla ice cream from Pennsylvania. 

As a nod to French cuisine, a large bowl of Petits Fours will be presented to each table during the dessert course.  These pay homage to American carnival foods, as well as more high-cuisine treats.  

The edible bowl filled with Petits Fours
The marbleized bowl--itself made of poured sugar and edible-- 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, little chocolates, coconut macaroons, and short bread cookies made with lavender grown in Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden.

There are also handmade spun sugar flowers--a red rose and a purple iris--the national flowers of America and France, nestled in each bowl.

The bowl was handmade in the White House pastry shop, with regular granulated sugar mixed with corn syrup heated together, then poured out and flipped atop a real bowl, so it would dry in the desired shape.  Yosses and his team are masters of sugar art.

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.

White House Food and Beverage Manager Daniel Shanks waxed poetic about all three wines to Obama Foodorama on Monday--but alas, his comments were off the record.  Shanks has been the White House wine steward since 1995.

A sample table at the press preview
The table settings, flowers, and decor...
As they enjoy the artisanal menu delights, the guests will dine amidst an atmosphere that recreates Paris in the Spring and Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings, with colored lighting bathing a riot of floral arrangements featuring quince branches in full bloom, irises, blue agapanthus and lilies. Tabletop centerpieces will star  the French national fleur, the purple iris. 

Guests will be seated at tables for ten, in round and rectangular configurations.  The President and Mrs. Obama and President Hollande will be seated at a rectangular Head Table for ten, according to a Senior Administration Official. 

Seating arrangements were still being "worked out" on Monday, according to the official. 

Hollande's Jan. 25th split from his longtime domestic partner Valérie Trierweiler--who was formally invited to the dinner--has presented an awkward situation that the White House Social Office is trying to smooth over.  Invitations that included Trierweiler's name had already been printed, and were destroyed before being sent to guests, the New York Times reported this weekend.

Because the French President is stag, there will be no dancing during the evening's celebration, either, said the White House official, in order to avoid further awkwardness.
A sample table at the press preview
"The theme of the décor for the French State Dinner was inspired by the shared history and long-standing friendship between the United States and France," the White House said.

The massive white-walled pavilion is a rental, as is everything in it, White House officials said at the press preview on Monday.  There will be no Presidential china used for the dinner, thanks to the number of guests; the formal State china sets are not big enough.  And they are not used in pavilions--er, tents.

The pavilion can hold far more guests than either the State Dining Room or the East Room, where the President and Mrs. Obama have held their prior State Dinners.  Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard has hired Rafanelli Events to orchestrate the decor, as Bernard has done for each State Dinner since he was appointed to his post in 2011.  

The Boston-based event firm is owned by Bryan Rafanelli, and perhaps best known for Chelsea Clinton's 'wedding of the century,' though Rafanelli's website says he has managed events for "some of the most successful people, companies and brands in the world."
  He has offices in the District and Palm Beach.  UPDATE:  Mrs. Obama publicly thanked Rafanelli at the dinner, calling him onstage to recognize his work.
The color scheme is a mix of blue and purples, with gilded accents.  Chairs are translucent with silk-covered cushions, matching the glass candle holders of varying heights placed on the tables.  Tablecloths are a variety of patterns.  The flatware is gold, and the crystal glasses are rimmed with gold.

Blue Room bouquet
Floral decor was created by White House Chief Floral Designer Laura Dowling, who "created French-inspired bouquets to set the tone," the White House said.

"Laura studied floral artistry in Paris for nearly 15 years, and her knowledge of French Floral Design is evident in the free-flowing lines of vines and flowers emanating from the classical bouquets," the White House said.

The pavilion's dramatic lighting will be mirrored by lighting on the South Lawn fountain, which is visible from the long glassed wall of the pavilion that overlooks the White House grounds.  There is heating, of course, and a professional sound system, as well as carpeting and chandeliers. 

A sample table at the press preview
Guests will arrive through the Booksellers entrance in the East Wing, where they will be formally announced.  They will then enjoy a cocktail reception on the State Floor, and a receiving line in the Blue Room with the two Presidents and Mrs. Obama before dinner.  

Motorized "old fashioned" trolleys will then ferry the guests down to the pavilion; these are also rentals and have been used at previous State Dinners.  Guests will depart through the Red Room, walking down the winding staircase of the South Portico to climb aboard the trolleys.

The two Presidents will toast each other and the centuries-long relationship between the US and France during the dinner.

The President and Mrs. Obama's previous State and Official Visits include India in November 2009, Mexico in May 2010, China in January 2011, Germany in June 2011, Korea in October 2011, and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in March 2012.

The Presidents and Mrs. Obama wave to the crowd on Tuesday morning during the Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn
State Dinner Menu Honoring President François Hollande
American Osetra Caviar
Fingerling Potato Velouté, Quail Eggs, Crisped Chive Potatoes

"The Winter Garden Salad"
Petite Mixed Radish, Baby Carrots, Merlot Lettuce
Red Wine Vinaigrette

Dry-Aged Rib-Eye Beef
Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese, Charred Shallots, 
Oyster Mushroom, Braised Chard

Hawaiian Chocolate-Malted Ganache
Vanilla Ice Cream and Tangerines

Petits Fours
Cotton Candy dusted with Orange Zest
Lavender Short Bread Cookies
Vermont Maple Fudge
Coconut Macaroons
Spun Sugar Flowers

Morlet “La Proportion Doree” 2011 
Napa Valley, California

Chester - Kidder Red Blend 2009 
Columbia Valley, Washington 

Thibaut-Jannison “Blanc de Chardonnay” 
Monticello, Virginia

The State Dinner pavilion on the South Lawn
Above, the State Dinner pavilion as seen from the Blue Room parlor in the White House.


*Photos by Eddie gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; Monticello photo by Pete Souza/White House