State dinner for Chinese leader brings tech giants to White House

Top executives from Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Disney all joined the Obamas for a dinner honoring Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife.

Steve Helber/AP
President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at a White House State Dinner on Friday.

Dinner is supposed to be a chance to unwind after a tough day at the office, but the extravagant dinner that President Barack Obama put on in honor of Chinese President Xi Jinping served up plenty of opportunities to keep the business talk going well into the night.

The head table where Obama and Xi sat was studded with top brass from many of America's leading corporations, including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Disney, DreamWorks and others eager to chat up the leader of the world's most populous country.

The 200-plus guest list for Friday's soiree in the East Room of the White House was a business-heavy mashup of Hollywood, diplomacy and corporate chieftains, seasoned with the addition of ballerina Misty Copeland and Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

Asked as he arrived whether the evening would be about business or pleasure, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said: "Fun. I hope."

For more than a few guests, a night at the White House was a chance to score points with a parent or other family member brought along as the "plus one."

"Empire" creator Lee Daniels and R&B singer Ne-Yo, who entertained the guests after dinner, brought their mothers.

Clara Daniels, glowing in a coral gown, declared her date "my No. 1 son" — but didn't specify if that was because he's the oldest of her two sons or because he came up with the dinner invitation.

"I am the most proud mom," enthused Harriett Loraine Burts, mom to Ne-Yo. Then she looked for a way to escape the cameras, confessing, "I'm not good at this red carpet thing."

As for how he landed Friday's gig, Ne-Yo theorized it's because of the "Chinese in my heritage somewhere."

While a few female guests, including Copeland, seemed stumped when asked who designed their outfit, there were no unanswered questions about Michelle Obama's fashion statement. She wore a black, off-the-shoulder mermaid gown by Chinese-American designer Vera Wang.

Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan, another fashion-savvy first lady, went with an embellished silk gown in rich aquamarine with beading on the bodice and skirt.

The decor in the East Room featured roses superimposed on the ceiling and included a 16-foot silk scroll depicting two roses that the White House said was meant to symbolize "a complete meeting of the minds."

That may have been somewhat aspirational, given the sharp differences between the U.S. and China on a range of issues.

But all of that was largely glossed over in the dinner toasts. Obama said that while some differences were inevitable, he wished that the American and Chinese people may "work together like fingers on the same hand in friendship and in peace." Xi described his visit as an "unforgettable journey" and praised the good will he felt during his travels from West Coast to East. He called for a "new, historic chapter in U.S.-China relations."

Asian influences permeated the dinner plan, right down to the Meyer lemons in the lemon curd lychee sorbet. (The citrus fruit is thought to have originated in China.)

Guest chef Anita Lo, owner of Annisa in New York's Greenwich Village and a past "Top Chef" competitor, is a first-generation Chinese-American from Birmingham, Michigan, who helped create dishes that highlighted "American cuisine with nuances of Chinese flavor," according to the White House. Guests dined on wild mushroom soup, poached Maine lobster, grilled cannon of Colorado lamb and poppyseed bread and butter pudding.

The dinner marked the midpoint of a daunting trifecta for a White House team led by new social secretary Deesha Dyer. They played host to Pope Francis earlier in the week. Now comes events the Obamas will host next week in New York, where the president will attend the U.N. General Assembly.

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