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Who's cookin' in the White House?

Does it matter who serves as chef to the Obamas?

(Page 2 of 2)



"Probably the fastest way you could get people in America to change the way they eat is to have the president eating consciously and eating with not only his mouth but his mind," Ms. Reichl says. "Everybody is looking to the Obamas as an example in so many things and this could be really powerful."

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People seem to be interested in what the new first family does: A small Iowa bakery found itself swamped with orders for its chocolate chunk cookies after word got out the Obama girls liked them.

Before the announcement to retain Comerford was made, Reichl dreamed of a "first chef" who could help be a culinary thought leader for the nation, issuing weekly menus detailing what the first family ate, offering tips on cooking with turnips or pole beans in season or ideas for creating meatless meals.

Reichl – along with influential Chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and New York restaurateur Danny Meyer – had penned a letter to the Obamas offering to help head a committee to select a chef who would champion organic, sustainable, and seasonal cuisine.

Attempts to lobby for a change in chefs annoyed Mr. Scheib – the White House chef for 11 years before Comerford – who said all along that he thought the Obamas would retain her.

"She is an extremely high-level cuisinier, very flexible, and she knows how it works at the White House, which is how you work with the family and take the right attitude and strike the right pose," Mr. Scheib says. "The ... only thing important to the chef in the White House is serving the first family. If that means macaroni and cheese 10 days in a row, that's what you cook."

Scheib says that, just as he did, Comerford cooks with the best organic and local produce available.

The Bushes have praised Comerford's skills in creating American cuisine. An official press release on the White House website says that Comerford has collaborated with Chef John Ash and others showcasing American regional styles of cooking.

In the next four years, observers hope that Comerford's skill in creating organic and health-conscious fare that highlights American gastronomy will be put to greater use in diplomatic settings.

"I was shocked to see the paltry number of state dinners held over the past eight years in the White House," Mr. Meyer says. "It's clear to me the Bush White House had very little interest in gastronomy or the pleasure of the table or using the table as a way to bring people together."

Meyer, whose New York restaurant empire includes such institutions as Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park, says that he sees the Obamas as a cultured couple who, he hopes, will recognize the power and pleasure of conviviality and entertaining in the same way the Kennedys did.

"Food is one of the most potent ways I know to bring people together from different cultures," Meyer says. "And to make a statement for the rest of the country on how to enjoy food in a way that is both pleasurable and responsible."

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