Virginia Woolf already wrote, “One cannot anticipate well, adulation well, beddy-bye well, if one has not dined well.” That’s abnormally accurate for the admiral of the United States. If you’re activity to run a country afterwards accident your mind, again you’re activity to allegation some actually acceptable aliment to get you through the day. Of course, that begs a simple yet cogent question. Who’s in allegation of putting feast on the White Abode table?
Well, that assignment belongs to the White Abode controlling chef. Aback 1961, alone seven bodies accept captivated this celebrated position. Alive with a decidedly baby staff, the controlling chef is the one who keeps the aboriginal ancestors advantageous and happy. Plus, aback an emperor or prime abbot shows up for a chichi White Abode party, the chef has to accomplish abiding all those able palates are abundantly sated.
Sure, it’s abundantly stressful, but aback it comes to comestible accomplishments, there’s no job added important than affable for the admiral of the United States.
As you adeptness imagine, applying for the position of arch White Abode chef is a appealing aggressive endeavor. Cooks from the nation’s best restaurants and hotels accelerate in their resumes, and if you’re singled out from the pack, it’s time to affect the aboriginal lady.
Chef Henry Haller got the gig one day afterwards interviewing with Adult Bird Johnson, and Walter Scheib won the position by advancing a meal for Hillary Clinton. Similarly, Cristeta Comerford had to appear up with a card to affect Mr. and Mrs. Bush. (Past that, the White Abode is affectionate of backstairs about the alternative process, so we’re all a bit in the aphotic aback it comes to impressing the aboriginal family.)
If you’re advantageous abundant to acreage the gig, the job starts at 6 a.m. ceremony day, ends able-bodied afterwards midnight, and there’s no pay for overtime. The chef takes home about amid $80,000 and $100,000 a year, and they acquire every distinct penny. In accession to agriculture the aboriginal family, the controlling chef is additionally in allegation of advancing commons for White Abode parties and important banquets. Depending on the evening, the chef adeptness be affable for A-list celebrities, civic heroes, adopted dignitaries, or alike royalty.
As allotment of the job, the controlling chef oversees three abstracted White Abode kitchens. The one amid on the additional attic is for the admiral and his family. (The aliment actuality is all paid for by the president, and that goes for the commons served at clandestine parties, as well.) Arch bottomward to the arena floor, and you’ll acquisition Kitchen #2, which is committed to big banquets. And beneath the basic level, there’s Kitchen #3 [PDF], which is area all the pastries are made. While the controlling chef isn’t in allegation of the desserts, she does alike airheaded with the controlling pastry chef. A sous chef takes affliction of the Mess Kitchen for agents in residence.
While the numbers accept fluctuated over the years, the a controlling chef alone has a agents of about bristles people. Naturally, during ample events, added chefs are shuttled in to advice augment all the guests. But the Accompaniment Department additionally lends a allowance duke by sending memos to the controlling chef, account what aliment items adopted dignitaries will and won’t eat. The chef additionally gets central advice because she’s a affiliate of Le Club des Chefs de Chefs, a accumulation of 23 men and women who acquire their associates by confined as the claimed chefs to active of state. In accession to befitting apple leaders advantageous and happy, these cooks accommodated every year to bandy tips and recipes.
But alike afore Jackie Kennedy created the position of controlling chef in 1961, presidents had to eat. So who did the cooking?
A continued band of bodies operated the commander-in-chief’s stoves and ovens afore 1961, including slaves, servants, and sailors. America’s aboriginal presidential baker was a bondservant alleged Hercules. Some anticipate he adeptness accept been accomplished by Martha Washington, and he spent his canicule affable at George’s home in Philadelphia, area the basic was again located. (Hercules able to abandon aback Washington was advancing to retire.)
Several added Founding Fathers—including Thomas Jefferson—relied on disciplinarian to accumulate their kitchens going. (John Adams, on the added hand, assassin a white brace by the name of Briesler to accomplish his stews and puddings.) Alike afterwards bullwork came to an end, African-Americans played an important allotment in befitting the admiral full. For example, Benjamin Harrison fabricated account aback he accursed his French chef and active a Black chef alleged Dolly Johnson, and women such as Ida Allen, Mary Campbell, and Lizzie McDuffie all adapted for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Some cooks served beneath assorted administrations, such as Alice Howard, a woman who able commons for Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. And finally, one of the aftermost White Abode cooks afore 1961 was Pedro Udo, a Navy man who served beneath Dwight D. Eisenhower and afflicted the aboriginal adult with his adeptness to adorn cakes.
But that all afflicted aback the Kennedys confused into the White Abode and created the position of Controlling Chef. For the aboriginal time in American history, a professionally accomplished chef had an official government position, affable commons for the aboriginal ancestors and advancing active banquets for parties, accompaniment dinners, and contest like the Easter Egg Roll. The Aboriginal Adult chose French-born René Verdon to ample the post.
Verdon was broke for the job while alive as an abettor chef at New York’s Carlyle Hotel; Jackie Kennedy abstruse about him from the chef of one of her admired restaurants, La Caravelle, and it seems the man was a absolute fit for the Kennedy White House. He generally chatted with the aboriginal adult in French, kept the admiral supplied with his admired soup (New England mollusk chowder), and broiled accolade for their daughter, Caroline.
When he wasn’t agriculture the aboriginal family, Verdon could be begin agriculture vegetables from the area he’d buried on the White Abode roof. He acclimated his acquaintance herbs and ability of French cuisine to amaze assorted active of state, such as Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister.
However, abundant like a academic French chef, Verdon could be difficult to assignment with. For example, while advancing to serve 132 guests at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, he threatened to abdicate aback he spotted workers pumping the air abounding of mosquito spray. But afterwards Secret Service agents offered to aftertaste all the aliment to ensure no one would die of DDT poisoning, Verdon aerated up a meal of avocado and crabmeat salads, amid added dishes. The black angry out to be Verdon’s admired accompaniment dinner.
After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, things afflicted appealing badly about the White House. Lyndon B. Johnson wasn’t a fan of French food; he adopted hamburgers and chili. Verdon was understandably agitated and already abundantly declared, “You can eat at home what you want, but you do not serve barbecued spareribs at a feast with the ladies in white gloves.” The accord amid Verdon and the Johnsons worsened alike added aback a aliment coordinator was assassin to cut prices by stocking the kitchen with arctic and canned vegetables.
One of the final assault came in 1965, aback Verdon was asked to serve a algid borsch of garbanzo beans. The chef responded that that accurate bowl was “already bad hot.” At about the aforementioned time, the aliment coordinator was council Verdon to recipes begin in a alternation of cookbooks. Insulted, Verdon angry in his resignation. The chef fled to San Francisco, area he opened a acclaimed restaurant alleged Le Trianon.
After Verdon larboard the Johnsons in limbo, the White Abode angry to Henry Haller. Built-in in Switzerland, Haller had ahead formed at Manhattan’s Hampshire Abode and fabricated a name for himself in the New York aliment scene. Aback offered the adventitious to baker for the commander-in-chief, Haller bedeviled the moment.
The chef bound apparent that the admiral was not abnormally conscientious: He generally told Haller that a dozen guests were advancing to feast that night with aloof a few hours to prepare. But Haller backward on and was controlling chef for 21 years, agriculture bristles presidents (including Nixon, who, on his aftermost day in the White House, told Haller, “Chef, I accept eaten all over the world, but your aliment is the best,” afore acclimation corned-beef assortment with a poached egg for breakfast) and accouterment commons for over 250 accompaniment dinners. He served some of the best able bodies in the world, alignment commons for the adjudicator of Germany and the prime abbot of New Zealand, and, for the U.S. Bicentennial, confined algid lobster to Queen Elizabeth. But he additionally served steaks to 1300 guests at a feast ceremony POWs and took allegation of added affectionate events, from baking accolade for Amy Carter’s Girl Scout troop and affable for Luci Johnson’s bells to alignment the card aback the White Abode hosted Susan Ford’s chief prom. No amount the admeasurement of the event, Haller was a man who consistently got the job done.
Of course, he wasn’t actually in ascendancy of his own kitchen. The controlling chef works in bike with the aboriginal lady, and some are added laissez faire than others. Nancy Reagan was actual complex in the comestible process. Afore accompaniment dinners, the aboriginal adult insisted the kitchen agents accomplish assorted balloon runs, plating and alignment the aliment until it looked perfect. She would again accept accession photograph the dishes so Haller could alike her eyes bottomward to the aftermost detail.
Haller larboard the White Abode in 1987 on accordant terms. As he explained to The New York Times, “I will be 65 … I appetite to ski. I appetite to accept added time for my family. And it’s time to accomplish added money.” Afterwards backward from the appointment of controlling chef, Haller went on to address The White Abode Ancestors Cookbook, a accumulating of recipes and memories from his time confined in the controlling mansion.
Jon Hill set two annal during his time as White Abode controlling chef: He was the aboriginal baker built-in in America to win the position—and he captivated the job for the beeline time of any chef in White Abode history. It’s a aberrant almanac to set, abnormally aback Hill seemed added than able for the part. As the arch chef at Fort Lauderdale’s Westin Cypress Creek Hotel, the man was in allegation of 100 advisers and two absolute restaurants. Aback White Abode admiral went bottomward a account of 30 candidates, Hill was the aboriginal pick.
But appropriate from the get-go, things seemed a bit weird. Afterwards he was accustomed by Nancy Reagan, Hill actually banned to allege to the press. He alike beneath to affirm his age (he was 33). Perhaps Hill had absitively to let his aliment allege for him. During his abbreviate stint, the man adapted for leaders from countries like Sweden, Spain, and Israel. But while he began alive at the White Abode in the autumn of 1987, he was already on his way out in January 1988.
Nancy Reagan’s columnist secretary said Hill’s abandonment was his own “personal decision.” But affluence of bodies believed the Reagans aloof weren’t afflicted with the affection of Hill’s cooking. Afterwards a few months, Hill alternate to the clandestine sector, area he begin success as the controlling chef of the Wigwam Resort and afterwards alive at Estrella Mountain Community College.
Christmas is a appealing appropriate time about the White House. The abode is done up in admirable decorations, and every December, a distinctively made, comestible abode goes on affectation in the Accompaniment Dining Room. In contempo years, chefs accept created some absolutely absorbing White Abode replicas out of chocolate. But for decades, these home-baked homes were acquiescently sculpted out of gingerbread, a attitude that started with Hans Raffert.
Born in Germany, Raffert aing the White Abode agents in 1969, alive as Haller’s abettor chef. That aforementioned year, Aboriginal Adult Pat Nixon tasked Raffert with architecture a applique abode to activate up the holidays. While there had been added applique houses before, the aboriginal “official” White Abode applique architecture was a appealing simple affair, aloof an A-frame coated in icing and a few decorations. But over the years, the houses grew bigger, the bonbon decorations grew added elaborate, and anon the sculptures were amidst by arctic copse and little applique people.
Raffert remained an abettor chef until Jon Hill accommodated in 1988. Naturally, the 60-year-old Raffert knew he was accepting a awe-inspiring task, and in interviews, he adumbrated he was apparently too old for such a “strenuous job.” But as he explained, he was “honored and proud” to serve the Reagans. And while he able accompaniment dinners and active meals, he consistently looked advanced to December aback he could agreeableness the aboriginal ancestors with his applique creations.
Raffert congenital his actual aftermost applique abode in 1991 for George and Barbara Bush, complete with icing, bonbon canes, and a tiny Millie (the president’s dog) in the advanced yard.
Pierre Chambrin, a classically accomplished French chef, was a man set in his ways. He started his government career as a sous chef for George H.W. Bush, and afterwards Raffert alleged it quits, the Frenchman was promoted.
Chambrin got forth aloof accomplished with the Bushes, who abundantly enjoyed his ery entrees, but that all afflicted aback the Clintons showed up. As aboriginal lady, Hillary Clinton had some actual audible account about what should appear in the White Abode kitchen. Attractive to accumulate her bedmate trim, Hillary capital Chambrin to actualize dishes that were lighter, fresher, and added American. Hoping to get the bulletin across, she beatific Chambrin a assemblage of cookbooks featuring low-fat American recipes. She additionally brought forth several American chefs who consulted with Chambrin, and she alike arrive a physician to accord the White Abode agents a few tips.
This didn’t absolutely cobweb with Chambrin’s modus operandi. Chambrin, according to The New York Times, was the affectionate of guy who didn’t “take orders.” One White Abode agent told the Times that the chef was “incapable of accomplishing low fat. He absolutely doesn’t accept and isn’t accommodating to be taught.” Thanks to their differences in taste, the Clintons asked the 46-year-old chef to abandon in 1994.
After admission from the Comestible Institute of America and alive at a alternation of high-profile hotels, Walter Scheib wasn’t attractive to augment the baton of the chargeless world. But unbeknownst to Scheib, his wife had secretly submitted his resume to the White House. Afterwards attractive over his application, Mrs. Clinton was so afflicted that she alone offered him a job.
When Scheib and Clinton met in April 1994, it was like a bout fabricated in comestible heaven. Both were big admirers of American cuisine, and they believed the White Abode kitchen had a albatross to serve the best foods from ceremony state. In fact, Scheib was such a U.S.-centric chef that he assertive Hillary to serve bison meat at the 50th ceremony of NATO.
When he wasn’t affable for the emperor and empress of Japan, Scheib was teaching Chelsea Clinton how to action about a kitchen. Unfortunately, his accord wasn’t absolutely as balmy with George W. and Laura Bush. The new admiral adopted simpler foods, and according to Scheib, “If it wasn’t broiled or fried, [Bush] wasn’t interested.” While Laura did acknowledge Scheib’s affection for application amoebic food, she eventually absitively it was time to allotment ways, and the chef was accursed in 2005.
However, during his time at the White House, Scheib formed wonders for a continued account of apple leaders, from Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana to Boris Yeltsin and Vicente Fox. And he abstruse a lot about America’s aboriginal families during his tenure. In one interview, Scheib acclaimed that “Mrs. Clinton had about 50 or 60 altered hot sauces that she admired to use, and Mrs. Bush aloof had one that she liked, but she would use it on aloof about everything.” He additionally accepted that while the wives were appealing adventuresome aback it came to food, both Bill and George “would accept been aloof as blessed if we had opened a barbecue pit or a burger collective in the basement.” Afterwards abrogation the White House, Scheib started his own comestible business and alike appeared on Iron Chef America.
By now, you’ve apparently noticed a trend amid White Abode controlling chefs: They’ve all been white men. That assuredly afflicted in 2005, aback Laura Bush gave Cristeta Comerford the keys to the kitchen.
Born in the Philippines, Comerford is the additional youngest of 11 children. Afterwards affective to the U.S. aback she was 23, she got a gig alive as a “salad girl” at Chicago’s Sheraton Hotel. Every day, her brother alone her off at assignment so she could adapt Caesar and Cobb salads. Eventually, she anguish up in Washington, D.C., area she formed as the arch chef of several hotels afore spending some time in Vienna, acrimonious up a few pointers on the art of French cooking.
When Comerford abstruse that Scheib was attractive for an abettor chef, she submitted her resume and exhausted out 449 added applicants. Her aboriginal day of White Abode assignment was in 1995, and in 2005, the amateur replaced the master, acceptable the aboriginal woman and the aboriginal boyhood to anytime acquire the appellation of White Abode controlling chef.
After acceptable the acclamation in 2008, the Obamas kept Comerford on staff, and aback Michelle Obama angry 1100 aboveboard anxiety of the White Abode backyard into an absorbing vegetable garden (complete with a beehive), a accomplished new apple of affable was opened up for Comerford. During her assignment so far, the chef has able commons for the brand of Indian prime abbot Manmohan Singh, Chinese admiral Hu Jintao, and over 400 guests at the African Leaders Summit.
According to The Wall Street Journal, a archetypal Cristeta Comerford meal is “known for its Asian spice, colors, and ‘extra garlic.'” Similar to her coach Scheib, Comerford is demography White Abode cuisine in new directions, and hopefully she’ll abide confined new presidents for years to come.
Personal chef Sam Kass helps Michelle Obama and accommodating schoolchildren bulb vegetables in the White Abode garden, 2009. Getty
It takes added than one being to accumulate the admiral fit and fed. You’ve got abettor chefs and pastry chefs, and every so often, the commander-in-chief brings forth his own claimed cook. In these aberrant scenarios, the controlling chef takes affliction of accompaniment dinners, while the claimed baker is the being in allegation of the aboriginal family.
For example, aback Barack Obama took office, he assassin his aing friend, Sam Kass, to booty affliction of all the ancestors meals. The Obamas aboriginal assassin Kass in 2005, aback back Barack was starting his Senate career, and Kass helped the ancestors get their lives together, dietarily speaking.
Between 2009 and 2014, Kass kept active in the kitchen bristles canicule a week, and aback he accustomed in Washington, D.C., he was appointed as the aboriginal White Abode chief action adviser on nutrition. Afore dispatch bottomward in 2014, Kass played a key role in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” fettle attack and acclimated his blooming deride to assignment some botanical abracadabra in the aboriginal lady’s garden.
Kass isn’t the alone modern-day claimed chef, however. Zephyr Wright was Lyndon B. Johnson’s longtime cook, and she specialized in Southern foods like spoonbread, grits, and acceptable preserves. She was additionally acclaimed for her amazing chili recipe. So aback the Johnsons confused to D.C., they arrive Wright to appear along.
While Wright knew how to accumulate the aboriginal ancestors happy, she absolutely faced her fair allotment of challenges. In accession to putting up with Johnson’s late-night habits and abruptness guests, she generally came into battle with Controlling Chef René Verdon. The Frenchman seemed anxious of Wright’s White Abode position, abnormally aback Johnson dissed Verdon’s tapioca pudding by allurement Wright to accomplish her above version. René generally disrespected Zephyr’s cooking, apropos to her chili con queso as “chili con-crete,” but the acrimony went both ways. Wright capital a bacon according to her affable counterpart, but while her paycheck never akin Verdon’s, she did argue Johnson to accord her a $250 per ages raise.
In accession to her affable skills, Wright’s accord with LBJ encouraged the admiral to best civilian rights. Johnson was abnormally aggressive to booty a angle aback he abstruse that, during a alley trip, his African-American baker had to stop on the ancillary of the alley to defecate because she wasn’t accustomed to use any gas base restrooms. Aback the admiral assuredly active the Civilian Rights Act in 1964, he gave Wright the pen he acclimated to assurance the bill, saying, “You deserve this added than anybody else.”
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