Tuesday, December 8, 2009


This first public sign of Christmas at the White House came in the form of a horse drawn carriage pulling an 18.5 foot tall Douglas fir. Franny Killpatrick and I discuss Christmas traditions at the White House for a recent article in the Old Town Crier:

First families come and go, but at Christmas the White House and its traditions rule. Here’s former White House Chef, Walter Scheib’s schedule for what happens to make it look like it all happened overnight.

Wally: Planning starts in January as the First Lady chooses a theme. Then the floral designer begins planning decorations for the entire house, based on that theme. Soon the pastry chef starts on the theme-related design for the year’s traditional gingerbread house.

Photograph by LaWatha Wisehart, Colville, WA

By late July the chef is working on menus for all the events that will take place during the holidays. These are done by September, when they go to the First Lady’s social secretary and then the lady herself for approval, refinements, and (if necessary) tastings.

At the end of September, the plans for table and buffet arrangements for the whole month of December are put in place. Since different guests (a total of some 30,000) attend each reception, a few basic plans can be used for everything. There will also be two or three main dinners with up to 150 guests at each. Also at this time the chef confers with the Food and Beverage Usher for wine pairings.

You can find the rest of the article here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Win McNamee, Getty Images / September 17, 2009

Katherine Skiba interviewed me for a piece that appears in the Family section of this morning's Chicago Tribune. The article is called, “What’s cooking at the White House.”

WASHINGTON -- Not long after arriving at the White House, first lady Michelle Obama led reporters and culinary students through its cramped, stainless steel kitchen, enthusing, "This is where the magic happens."

The food at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is fresh, seasonal and gathered from across America, as far away as the rivers of Alaska and as close as the first lady's garden.

There's a Chicago influence too, not only because of the first couple's deep roots. They brought with them Sam Kass, who had cooked for them in the Windy City and is now an assistant chef at the White House.

Ten months into the Obama presidency, it's plainer than a scoop of vanilla ice cream that Barack and Michelle Obama are food enthusiasts. Call them the "first foodies." The Obamas possess sophisticated palates, according to chefs who know them.

Still, there's a dichotomy to their dining. They're omnivores who enjoy "adventurous" eating, but confess a hankering for humble foods, like burgers and sweet potato french fries.

All of this translates to a White House where food, and who is cooking it, matters.

You will find the rest of the article here.