SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Every New Year’s resolution begins with the key element of hopeful promises. On this New Year’s Day, I also am determined to set a course that abandons the familiar and sails towards integrity and truth. I think it is appropriate that I start with a response to an article that was printed in the New York Times on December 24, 2008. You can read the article here.
My best to all of you in 2009. Happy New Year!
Dear Ms. Severson,
My name is Walter Scheib, and for eleven years from 1994 to 2005 I was the Executive Chef at the White House. This offered me not only the personal honor of serving two unique and interesting first families, but also offered me the professional challenge of fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s mandate of bringing contemporary American cuisine and nutritionally responsible food to the White House.
While the White House Chef’s primary responsibility is to work as the personal chef to the First Family; an important secondary responsibility was to be sure that all cooking done and product procured for the White House was of the highest quality and first rate in every way. This meant that nearly all the products used was obtained from local growers and suppliers, in many cases directly from farm stands and growers. There also was a small garden on the roof of the White House where produce was grown for the families' use. The ethic of both the purchasing and the cooking at the White House under my direction and under the continuing direction of Cris Comerford, my assistant chef of seven years, is one of respect for both the pedigree of the product and manner it is grown, gathered, raised or caught. With this ethic in mind, I would like to address the article you wrote for the 12/24 NYT food section.
I have no knowledge of the President Elect’s agricultural philosophy or that of any of his appointments’, but I do have an intimate and unlike others quoted in your story, firsthand knowledge of the food served at the White House, and what the Chef’s position there really is. Unfortunately in the area of the food and cooking at the White House your article depends heavily on second hand and worse yet blogosphere assumption, speculation and cliché for its content.
Let me do a quick “fact check” on some of the content of your article. Ruth Reichl wants a chef that cooks “local and delicious” food. Delicious is in the mouth of the beholder, local product sourcing is the Modus Operandi of the kitchen and has been for over a decade.
You say that the President Elect “possesses a more-sophisticated palate” than his predecessors, as one who knows the diverse and culinarily curious palates of the families I served, I would say that at best is speculation.
Ms. Gehman Kohan’s assertion that the President Elect “is the first President who might have actually eaten organic food” is so grossly false as to be laughable. Both the Clinton and Bush families dined regularly on organic foods. Laura Bush to her credit and probably to your readers surprise was adamant that in ALL CASES if an organic product was available it was to be used in place of a non-organic product.
You say “add it all up and Mr. Obama looks like the first foodie president” in a long time, that may be true, but has little to do with the food at the White House as the First Ladies are the ones who give those marching orders. Hillary was clearly a “foodie” and her interest in bringing American food and good nutrition to the WH is well documented.
The tired cliché that President Clinton subsisted on a diet of Big Macs has been repeated ad nauseam; in seven years cooking for him not once was there a Mickey D bag sighted in the White House. Both grass fed and Wagyu beef was frequently used as were a tremendous variety of high end or atypical items and products. Organic produce and dairy, sustainably caught fish and a myriad of local and regional products were the products of choice of both families.
Finally the presumptions of Ms. Reichl, Ms. Waters and Mr. Meyer, that the admirable agenda they espouse, is not currently the practice in the White House kitchens are false. The food at the White House as it should be in everyone’s house, is local, organic, nutritionally responsible and most of all delicious. The current chef, Cris Comerford, is now and has always been deeply committed to these principles, as I was before her.
Thank you for your time,