Friday, December 12, 2008

White House Chef

I read an article recently about the possibility of a new White House chef under the Obamas. I found this interesting for several reasons. First I just finished watching the History Channel's "Behind Closed Doors" special on the White House and they were talking about the responsibilities of the White House chef. Second, I read a new mystery (second in a series) that uses the White House chef (a fictional one, of course - a fictional president as well) as the sleuth (you can read my review of the first book in the series as well at my personal blog). So it just seemed like fate to see an article on the same topic.

This article points out that the White House chef isn't going to be some celebrity - that just doesn't work for the job nor for security purposes:
"I get a kick out of all these people saying the No. 1 thing should be green, or sustainable or this, that or the other thing. They're missing the point. It's not about advancing your agenda. It's not about building your repertoire. It's not about getting your business promoted," he said. "It's about serving the first family, first, last and in every way. That's the only job."

The head chef earns $80,000-$100,000 a year creating menus for state dinners, holiday functions, receptions and official luncheons hosted by the president and first lady. Though the gala affairs are organizational challenges, Scheib says the greater challenge comes on the personal side: feeding the president, his family and guests.

A White House chef's sensitivity and understanding is just as important as culinary skills, given that the chef is among the few people who interact with the first family in private, Scheib and Mesnier say.

"For the domestic staff — and for all the fancy titles, that's all the people in the residence are — how they learn the temperament and temperature of the first family is crucial. It makes doing a state dinner look easy," said Scheib, who has written a book and started a business planning private events since leaving the White House. "The challenge is how you give them everything they need and at the same time expand their horizons if they choose, but at the same time, not being underfoot."

Or as Mesnier puts it, "You have to be almost a clairvoyant, someone who can read a crystal ball and be able to judge what would they love today."

Both men give Comerford [the current White House chef], the first woman and first minority to serve as executive chef, high marks in that regard.

The White House chef is responsible for making sure the food is perfect for all major state functions and thus part of the picture of the US presents to the world. Definitely an important job and one that requires great sensitivity, perfection and determination. But as this article points out, while there are state functions, the day to day job of the White House chef is to feed the First Family. The special I talked about earlier this week highlights the work the White House staff does for state dinners, but this was only the sixth one in eight years – that really makes this not a major function of their job, while the day to day feeding of the First Family and their guests is.

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