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Nov 11, 2008 11:00 AM

Bayless, Smith considered for White House Top Chef

The New York Daily News reports that Chi-town chefs Rick Bayless and Art Smith are in the running for the Obama White House.

With the First Lady Elect's puported penchant for organic, I would think they would want someone who is part of the locavore movement, no?

Regardless, I would prefer if the new administration to focus on local, organic, pasture raised products. That's how I want my tax dollars spent on state dinners.

Or perhaps they could hire tarnished Dinner: Impossible star Robert Irvine so that he could do some resume building.

How do you want your country represented at the First Table?

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  1. I actually want them to use the cheapest possible ingredients that still taste good. If we're belt tightening, why aren't they?

    8 Replies
    1. re: Ericandblueboy

      Jeez, Its the F'n White House. Can't we please show the best that we can possilby do? Buy one less F-18, but keep the food on 1600 Penn. top notch. - organic or otherwise.

      1. re: tbear

        I'd say buy one less fighter and buy decent ingredients at the lowest cost. I make more than the president of the U.S. and I don't eat organic food. Why should taxpayers fund anyone's extravagance?

        1. re: Ericandblueboy

          Jeeze. I don't think of organic food as an "extravagance." Before the advent of factory farms, everyone ate organic. I love the idea of the First Family leading us back to foods produced and eaten the way they always had been: without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and cloning. The greater the demand, the greater production will be and then the lower the price.

          Anyway, the First Family pays for all family meals. State dinners, of course, come out of the public dole.

          As a native Chicagoan very familiar with both chefs, I doubt if Rick Bayless would head the WH kitchen -- his food is totally Mexican regional. Art Smith is another story. His focus is mostly American Southern and Oprah was his big boost to fame and fortune.

          I has a personal tour of the WH during the Clinton administration with the sister of the Filipino woman who is the current EC. Don't know why, but I have a feeling she might not continue in that role. We'll see. It'll be up to Michelle.

          1. re: chicgail

            I'm very curious. Why do you have a feeling that she might not continue in that role? What did you learn during your tour?

            1. re: ccbweb

              It's not like I know anything. It's pure speculation.

              I only mentionned the tour b/c I got to go through the kitchen and see things like the family's menu requests and grocery shopping items which was pretty cool.

              She began at the WH in the Clinton Administration and was promoted to EC by Bush. Her family is very pragmatic, which, I would imagine, made it very easy for her to shift from the Clintons to the Bushes without much concern for idiology.

              My impression of the food style of the Obamas (organic, contmporary) is going to be very different than that of the Bush family (fairly traditional) or the Clintons (bubba). That might call for a very different kitchen staff. but we'll see.

              1. re: chicgail

                My understanding was that the Clintons really modernized the cuisine at the White House, bringing in what's generally called "New American." Remember it was Hillary, not Bill, who chose the chef and the food! IIRC I read an acendote recently where the former White House chef saw Bill after Bill's heart surgery and Bill told him that he should have listened to him and Hillary. But a decent chef should be able to work with an "organic, contemporary" style -- it's a matter of choosing ingredients, not technique.

          2. re: Ericandblueboy

            The President is required to pay for all his personal food. I can't imagine he has to pay for the food at State functions, but I'm not sure how that works.

        2. re: Ericandblueboy

          I kinda agree but I don't know if I'd want to read about dignitaries being fed Vienna sausage in shoyu. I think if the chef could do things that follow in line with P-E Obama's ability to make statements with his actions (e.g., seriously considering adopting a pup from a shelter instead of pulling a Paris Hilton and getting one of those trendy purse-bound yappy pooches), it would go far not only in showing VIPs and dignitaries that he is serious about being a 21st century President - a doer and not a goober - it would also play well in the press.

          Locavore-based ingredients would send a great message in so many ways.

          Cultural cuisines of the First Family - Hawaiian grindz, Kenyan cuisine, Chicago BBQ, Southern food.

          Sustainable seafood choices - self-explanatory.

          I'm thinking someone who in the vein of Alice Waters (but not her - her in the White House would be like a free bird captured and put in a cage) with the political savvy of, well, our P-E...

        3. The way that article is written, I can't tell if the info came from the Obama camp or if it's just speculation. This article seems to think it's pure speculation:

          I can't imagine Bayless or Smith would want the job:

          As for what it costs, according to something I read on another site, the first family is billed for their meals.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            "As for what it costs, according to something I read on another site, the first family is billed for their meals."

            I saw a report on ABC News that said the First Family pays for all of their own ingredients/food for personal consumption. Anything else, (state dinners, etc...) are payed for by the tax payers.

            1. re: gmk1322

              Right. A state dinner is basically a business function, and thus is paid for by the host business, in this case, the US government.

          2. I sorta of doubt it...although who knows. While I'm sure the White House EC gets paid well, I don't think it could compare to a name chef/owner...or time and hard work.

            About the food...what's served daily to the first family is up to them. What's served at state dinners, to visitors and dignitaries, I want the US represented well. Food and hospitality are part of good diplomacy and given the past 8 years...we need every advantage possible. (Side note: the Bush administration had a total of 6 state dinners over 8 years.)

            Say $100k is spend on a big state dinner...and 6 mos later it pays back with a favor or an alliance, money well spend IMO.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ML8000

              If Rick gets the job, he may have to change the name of the Chicago restaurant to "Topol-Obama"!

            2. My first thought was tat if Oprah has any input, it will be Art Smith.

              11 Replies
              1. re: hummingbird

                I don't think they're going to hire a "name" chef at all. For one thing, they might keep the current chef, who is the first woman and first minority (Filipina) in that position. For another, it's not a celebrity chef kind of gig -- it's really more like running a hotel kitchen than a restaurant: a mixture of "room service" and banquets, very little chance to cook what you want to cook, and a lot of managerial and administrative work.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Really good points. This is a real job, not a fly-in photo op. The Chefs mentioned in the article have never run kitchens on this scale, and two are currently private chefs, which is a long way from running the white house, which presumably includes managing all the cantinas, cafaterias etc. in addition to state functions, family dinners etc.

                  1. re: tbear

                    The White House Presidential Food Services is run by the Dept. of the Navy. What I couldn't ascertain, after a fair amount of digging around (unfortunately it's really hard to find search terms that give me what I want without thousands of other hits), is whether oversight for this is also under the purvue of the White House Executive Chef. I *think* so but I wouldn't bet big on it.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I did not know who the current White House chef was, but I agree that this woman should be given a chance to show what she can do. I also agree that a White House kitchen is no place for a many ego's inthe dining room already.

                    I read ( here I think) that the Obama's planned to put in a vegetable garden, so I think Locovore may be on the agenda, but food specialties from all over the country should also be featured, especially at State Dinners.

                    1. re: dragonchowmein

                      I'm not sure, but I do not think they change the White House chef for every new president, in fact I would bet they do not.

                      1. re: cookkevin

                        Yes and no. They don't have to change the chef, but "The Executive Chef serves at the First Lady's pleasure and is appointed, or reappointed, by each administration." As you can see by the list in the wikipedia article, the turnover rate is fairly low:


                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                      The current Chef worked there for ten years before being promoted to Executive Chef. It's a non-political position & she and the former Chef worked for both Rep. and Dem. administrations. Gotta be a very unique experience & interesting working conditions (the kitchens are supposed to be small for commercial kitchens).

                      Interestingly, its the First Lady that makes the decision on household staff, including the Exec. Chef. & it's her and her social secretary that help plan menus for events. They do have a kitchen in the residence and personal staff to see to all of their needs.

                      1. re: oldbaycupcake

                        Makes me kind of wish we'd elected Hillary -- wouldn't you like to see what Bill would do planning events and meals at the White House? :-) Bet they'd be fun!

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I was thinking the exact same thing! I believe it's a traditional role and some First Ladies are more involved than others.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I think Bill would have an intern do it...sorry. :)

                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Good points all. This article brings up a few more points I hadn't considered:

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