Dining with the White House Chef

This week was an interesting one to be in Washington DC.  I was there as part of the produce industry’s annual Public Policy Conference, and of course we had visits scheduled with our elected congresspersons.  But many were cancelled as part of the government shutdown.

As it turns out, the highlight of the week was a special dinner at the Newseum, the official Museum of Journalism, and I have written about it here before.

On Monday evening, I was invited to a dinner prepared and narrated by Chef Walter Scheib, who was the White House Executive Chef from 1994 – 2005.  He served both the Clinton and George W. Bush families and had more than a few funny stories to share. EDIT: Chef Walter passed away in June 2015 in a tragic hiking accident.

You can see the four course dinner we enjoyed on this personalized menu.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Since I am a part time (90%) vegan, it was fun to hear about the first course, Red Curried Sweet Potato Soup, which the chef created when Chelsea Clinton went vegan in high school.  And to learn that Britain’s Tony Blair suggested that the chef add “a piece of halibut” to the Soup to make it a main course meal was so interesting.

Red Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Halibut

The third course (the salad), was created when President George W. Bush told the chef that he didn’t like anything green (much to the chagrin of first lady, Laura Bush), so the “salad” was a Tamale Tart (aka a Quiche), on top of slices of avocado, orange and sweet onion.

The chef has an interesting personal story, starting with flunking out of college. He learned his love of cooking from his mother, and as a fluke, applied to the CIA (The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY), and was a last minute acceptance to his class.  Not a surprise to me, he finished at the top of his class. And how did he end up as the White House Executive Chef?  He sent in his resume, along with more than 2,000 other chefs, but it turns out it was his persistence and a follow up phone call to the office of the White House Usher that got him an audience with the First Lady and her “Kitchen Cabinet” who chose the Chef.  If you want to find out more about Chef Walter Scheib, you can check out his website.

My daughter Alex and almost 200 other guests enjoyed the dinner and the fun anecdotal stories the chef shared about his experiences at the White House.  He told a few stories before each course, shared his inspiration for each recipe, and then eight servers magically appeared from the kitchen and served each course in a synchronized fashion.  When he stopped by our table, between one of the courses, I asked him about the synchronized serving.

He told me that was one of the techniques he perfected while at the White House (and I could tell he was pleased that I had noticed).

It was so nice to personally meet the chef when he stopped by our table.

Alex, Chef Walter, and me

So, dinner with Chef Walter Scheib has once again inspired me to cook and entertain more, maybe not with the style and flourish of the former White House Executive Chef, but I will have to think up some fun stories to tell before my dinners.

Bon Appetit!