Chefs Pose as Clinton's Kitchen Advisers

Four prominent American culinary talents offer their ideas for cooking - from state banquets to family suppers

THE Clintons' changes concerning the food served at the White House have drawn reactions from chefs across the United States ranging from cheers to "well, it's about time."

The menus will be written in English, no longer in French.

The cuisine will have a decidedly all-American focus, with input from America's chefs.

"There are a lot of ideas going on in American food that we want to showcase," Hillary Clinton has said.

But many chefs long for more tone-setting in the White House kitchen and on its tables, from the hiring of an American chef (it's been almost 30 years since an American has headed the White House kitchen) to promoting a philosophy that values pure food.

A Dec. 8 1992 letter, written by Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., spoke for a coalition of more than 60 CHEFS (Chefs Helping to Enhance Food Safety) - urging President Clinton to embrace a philosophy that promotes the value of organically grown produce and stricter standards for the quality of fish, poultry, and meat.

"The president's own table would then be a singular expression of long-absent values. Set with honesty and integrity, it would speak profoundly to the American people," Waters wrote. The letter received a lot of media attention and ignited many discussions in the food world. The Monitor talked with some prominent chefs who, if asked, would consider being part of Clinton's "kitchen cabinet."

Here's what they had to say: Julia Child

It would be good to have an American chef [in the White House].

When they say American food, that means all kinds of food. There's no reason to ban French food. The important thing is we have very good food. Most of the entertaining is for honoring people from other countries.... We need to think of what they like to eat. If people have restrictive diets, they should have the White House know.

We are producing wonderful things. We should take great pride in what we have and show it off.

I would suggest they have a committee or group of people who are responsible for food. No matter who is president, they would oversee quality, service, safety, entertaining by the White House. The committee should be elected by a group of peers, thoroughly respected. They should know all about diplomacy, and they should be completely unswayed by pressure groups - vegetarians, anti-this, anti-that - and serve delicious food, have wonderful service, and show off our country. Charlie Trotter, owner Charlie Trotter's, Chicago

I don't necessarily think there should be a French or American chef. It should be someone whom the president likes.

In every other country they would never dream of having a foreigner [cooking for the head of state]. It would be appalling if they had anyone but someone French for chef in France; Italian chef in Italy. In this country, it's been different.

The American cuisines have caught up to the French cuisine.... In fact, I think it's a lot more exciting.

If I were [in the White House], I would probably have an American chef. There would be more possibilites. So many chefs incorporate Asian, South American, Eastern European.... You'd see the globe if you had a certain type of American chef.

It could be a man or a woman. Clinton seems to like to make statements, and there are a lot of women who are unbelievable chefs, so possibly he may want to have an American woman as his White House chef.

I was just reading today how the Clintons may move toward serving pesticide-free food; maybe not going all the way toward organic. Serving food that has been raised responsibly says "this is important." Joyce Goldstein, owner Square One, San Francisco

Does it have to be an American chef? The human being doesn't have to be American as long as they're using good-quality ingredients with no preservatives or additives. [It's also important to] serve dishes lower in fat, setting an example, which doesn't mean they can't blast out and have a rich dessert sometime.

I think American chefs tend to be more open-minded, more experimental, though sometimes that can go in the wrong direction; where being too experimental can be bad. Americans have learned to look at food from different countries and extrapolate - what goes best here. The food we're cooking has evolved.

I don't think the White House should be serving American regional cuisines exclusively at all, but it's nice to do that from time to time. The food should be representative of the melting pot that is America, and show different influences as part of the package.

I would contact the best purveyors possible, get security clearances, get the best ingredients. I would plan the different menus: family meals, state dinners with the guest list. [For state dinners] I would plan a menu that would be partly new and partly recognizable. If French diplomats come, a dinner would include French food, out of respect for them, and also American food so they could learn something about us.

I would always try to have meals healthy, well-balanced, and fresh, with not too many elaborate courses, and respect people's dietary restrictions. For family meals, it would be a whole other story. Bill Clinton obviously has a palate that has gotten used to heavy, junky food. He needs his food spectrum broadened and the fat drained out. It would be a "retraining of the palate."

It's very important that the president support organic, sustainable agriculture. Agribusiness has done a lot of stuff to destroy food of this country.... That's where the setting of examples is very important, because big business will listen if the president is doing it.

[Good organic produce and quality food] should be available to all people - that should be the message to the president.

Given the American way of doing business, "peasant" food is very expensive. It's ironic. That's where our president speaking out would be very helpful. Jasper White, owner Jasper's, Boston

An American chef who cooks American food first and foremost [should be in the White House]. It's been a long time since we've had that. It's been done by French chefs for a long time, and it's an embarrassment. It's an insult to American chefs and cooking schools that have produced so many good chefs over the years. When dignitaries come to this country, they should be served the best American food. I'd hate to see them bring in an American chef who was a Francophile just for sake of getting an American

in there.

I would definitely encourage small farming and dish up as much regional cooking as possible; give people a real taste of America.

If I were White House chef, I would work morning, noon, and night to make sure that the very best this country has to offer would be made available. It's pretty easy to do that; a lot of people would be very pleased to sell to the White House, a lot of talented young people would be happy to work there. I would give it my best shot....

Most of the new American cooking calls for good local, wholesome ingredients. The White House could definitely set an example by buying from small farmers; give a real boost to small farming.

[On Clinton's eating habits:] Given the opportunity, even the worst palate can be changed. If they picked a chef, like myself ... I would spoil him. He wouldn't want to eat at McDonald's again. I'd prepare simple American food....

[Plans for menus:] I would go over the White House files - cookbooks written in the 1800s and take a menu, say, that was done for James Madison; I'd love to redo some of the old foods served in the White House kitchen by American chefs.

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