Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Here is Part II of Marion's coverage on Joan Nathan's Party:

Another Scene from Joan Nathan’s Party

Alice Waters and Walter Scheib, a former White House chef, have been nattering at one another for several months over who could or should cook for the new first family. The two reached a détente Sunday night, at the same party where Tom Colicchio performed the Heimlich maneuver on Joan Nathan.

They met during a dinner honoring a dozen chefs from around the country who came to Washington to cook a series of dinners. Held in private homes on Monday night, the dinners raised money for two local soup kitchens and helped promote Ms. Waters’s desire to make federal policy more welcoming to local, organic and sustainable food.

Mr. Scheib and Ms. Waters made their way to an upstairs room and closed the door. His first words were: “I’m 100 percent behind your agenda. The only dilemma I had is over what you said about Cris, who is my friend,” a reference to Cristeta Comerford, who was hired by Mr. Scheib and was promoted to executive chef after he left, in 2005. “She can’t talk publicly so I became her surrogate. I defend my friends.”

Ms. Waters and others had suggested the Obamas replace her with a chef who would cook locally and sustainably. Mr. Scheib took offense, he said, not only because Ms. Comerford is a talented cook, but because the White House kitchen already does many of the things Ms. Waters has suggested.

During the Clinton Administration, in response to a suggestion from Ms. Waters for a big vegetable garden on the White House lawn, a small garden was planted on the roof . It provided enough tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and herbs for the first family, but not their guests.

At about the same time, Mr. Scheib said, the White House began buying from about 40 different local farmers and co-ops, although for security reasons this was not widely discussed. If word leaked out that a purveyor was supplying food to the President, it was immediately dropped from the list, a Secret Service requirement.

Laura Bush took things a step further. “To her credit, Mrs. Bush was adamant about organic foods,” he said. “It goes counter to her perceived personality, but it was never important to her that the information to be released.”

Ms. Waters then explained herself, saying, “I never criticized Cris for what she does when I offered to help evaluate the cooking.” She added that she was relieved to learn that the Obamas were not hiring a celebrity chef, as some had suggested.


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