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Grapes we can believe in
February 7, 2009 12:59 PM   Subscribe

The first female White House chef, a naturalized Philippina named Cristeta Comerford, was appointed by George W. Bush - who told Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, "I am reminded of the great talent of our Philippine Americans when I eat dinner at the White House." Despite the urging of American food icon Alice Waters, President Obama has left Comerford in charge of the White House kitchens - though he's keeping quiet about it. But on the basis of the wines served at Obama's Inauguration Day lunch, oenophiles are still hoping for change. (more First Food posts here and here )
posted by Joe Beese (56 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sure Ms. Comerford is a fine chef, she's just gotten a bit rusty after eight years of chili dogs and Hot Pockets.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 1:04 PM on February 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


from the change link:

According to Shanks, the White House currently stocks around 500-600 bottles. That is pathetic and another example of how America's infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate. During his eight years in office, Thomas Jefferson amassed a 20,000-bottle collection, which he kept in a cellar that he had built under what is now the West Wing. Two centuries later, that space is being used for other purposes, and the president of the United States has less wine in his basement than I have in mine.

This after bemoaning the Bush White House's choice of an expensive wine at a conference on the global economic meltdown. So, what...this person wants the Obama's two have 20,000 bottles of Carlo Rossi? I don't get it.

but I'll bet the Obamas are a hell of a lot of fun after a jug of Carlo Rossi
posted by nosila at 1:07 PM on February 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Just a shout-out for William Scheib's White House Chef. Scheib was head chef under the Clintons, and left during the Bush administration because he felt hamstrung by the Bush's utter lack of style and taste when it came to food. A terrific read.
posted by padraigin at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I really wanted Michael Pollan to be Food Czar.
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:17 PM on February 7, 2009


dammit, I wish I liked wine!
posted by jonmc at 1:19 PM on February 7, 2009


I think she's Filipina, not "Philippina." And she's all kinds of awesome. I fear that Obama is going quietly phase her out, to the chagrin of Filipino-Americans everywhere.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:20 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


According to Shanks, the White House currently stocks around 500-600 bottles. That is pathetic and another example of how America's infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate. During his eight years in office, Thomas Jefferson amassed a 20,000-bottle collection, which he kept in a cellar that he had built under what is now the West Wing. Two centuries later, that space is being used for other purposes, and the president of the United States has less wine in his basement than I have in mine.

I'm sorry, but WHO GIVES A FUCK? The President not stocking up on tons of wine has absolutely nothing to do with America's infrastructure.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:28 PM on February 7, 2009 [15 favorites]


The President not stocking up on tons of wine has absolutely nothing to do with America's infrastructure.

Unless of course he gets all tanked up and decides to build a highway. It's wrong to be drunk on the road, even wronger to be drunk and building a road. Stop the madness. and get me a drink.
posted by jonmc at 1:30 PM on February 7, 2009


I am grateful to live in a society that is so well off that people actually have the time and energy to argue about who should be doing the cooking at the White House and complain about the wine selection. [Insert deity of choice here] bless America!
posted by MikeMc at 1:32 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alice Waters wrote a letter to Obama urging him to choose “a person with integrity and devotion to the ideals of environmentalism, health, and conservation ... "


Translation: Goodbye "ribs", Hello "tofu".

I'd rather have my president well fed and satisfied, if ya don't mind. Hard to focus on the key issues of the day when you're always trying to figure out how to sneak past the Secret Service to get to the McDonald's down the street.
posted by RavinDave at 1:50 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every link in this FPP seems designed to manufacture some sort of controversy. Cormerford is a respected chef who buys local, organic produce and ingredients whenever she can. The new President has let her remain in the position. Wine choices are good. Some people wish the White House executive chef had more of a public voice, or more of a presence in the Cabinet or the White House website (personally, I wish the government would give me a jetpack). But the White House cook is not a public-facing position. The White House cook's job is to cook for the president, and Cormerford seems to be able to do that job well.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:54 PM on February 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Ribs from sustainably raised, healthy pigs will win out over industrially farmed pig ribs any day. Tofu has nothing to with it.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:56 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like to think I'm familiar with a variety of cuisines and their various and diverse fresh ingredients, but here I am stumped. Not to derail, but what are the little bulb/seed and green top things being prepared by Chef Comerford and an assistant here?
posted by longsleeves at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2009


RavinDave and KokuRyu have the right idea I think. It's not a public position, and cooking what makes the president happy is more important than impressing some foodie.
posted by jellywerker at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2009


Good lord, let's not get into some stupid-assed 'ribs vs. tofu' 'culture war' crapola. Falling for that bait helped put republicans in the white house in the first place.

/loves ribs
/hates tofu
/gives serious respect to anyone who who on moral grounds decides to be vegan or vegetarian
/says 'fuck you' to anyone who turns up their nose ata plate of ribs based on snobbery, because any chef will tell you that they're delicious.
posted by jonmc at 2:06 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this is a pretty unappetizing group of wines. I recently had the '05 Mondavi, and drinking it was like sucking on tree bark—it was obnoxiously oaky. Cloying and buttery, the Newton unfiltered epitomizes the overwrought, blowsy style of California chardonnay, and Kistler isn't far behind. These wines may have presence, but it's not a presence I want in my mouth.

This whole article is obnoxiously oaky.
posted by ladd at 2:07 PM on February 7, 2009 [15 favorites]


I would imagine that's lemongrass, being used in place of bamboo or metal skewers, and the brown stuff at the end is a minced pork 'lollipop.' The lemongrass adds flavor to the meat. The tiny amount of meat is what would make them fancy. When I make them, they look more like shish kebabs or tsukune. Damn tasty.

And seriously, this? It's a good post, but it just shows that a lot of people really can't see beyond their own immediate concerns. I'm sure, somewhere out there, someone is furious that Obama didn't come into the Oval office making major changes to the decor, or that (gasp) he relaxed the jacket requirement in the oval office. Or, dear god, he likes to have the heat up in the White House, making him 'irresponsible.' For fuck's sake, I think he literally has more important things on his plate than, well, the person who's putting things on his plate.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:08 PM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hmmmm, piss off foodies or the Filipinos? Maybe he should split the difference by firing the chef and hiring Manny Pacquiao as the White House boxing czar.
posted by vorpal bunny at 2:09 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


@longsleeves: it looks vaguely like chinese chives, but the color is off. I'd say something in the allium (chives/onion) family, but I'm kind of stumped, too.
posted by thebestsophist at 2:18 PM on February 7, 2009


thebestsophist: "@longsleeves: it looks vaguely like chinese chives, but the color is off. "

I don't know either. But the original question made me wonder what involvement, if any, the Secret Service has in the WH kitchens. I'm sure all the workers undergo the usual background checks. But are any agents monitoring the security of the pantries? Just in case Al Qaeda had sought to assassinate Bush by poisoning his beloved Chex mix?
posted by Joe Beese at 2:25 PM on February 7, 2009


Obama's accused of side-stepping the "issue" by letting the status quo remain. Probably the smartest thing he can do. I suspect he knows full well that if he says the wrong thing to the wrong crowd, he's staring at 8 years of Cauliflower Quinoa Soup and Rice Milk.
posted by RavinDave at 2:37 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


In this day of high unemployment and disposable employees, I think it's right to keep the chef who is apparently doing a good job. She's a civil servant, not an officeholder. These "foodies" have an overinflated sense of self-importance to think the position needs elevating for their own purposes. She's got a job to do already and it's not spokesperson. It's enough that the nation supplies servants for the president without crowning them. Let the British hawk their "cheesemaker to Her Majesty the Queen since 1870" bit along with their official milliners and candlestick makers and whatnot. It's quaint and smacks of the royalty to which it belongs.

BTW, Obama is on the cover of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate this month with the kicker that Obama has a 1000 bottle cellar. The foodies are already quite capable of appropriating Obama's image for their own publicity as it is, just like anyone else with something to sell.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:39 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is organic food actually better for the environment? You would need more land devoted to agriculture to grow the same amount of food organically as using industrial agriculture methods. Ditto for local food. Shipping sea freight is really energy efficient. I bet in a lot of cases growing food in a more suitable climate would give you a yield for every unit of energy to more than make up for the costs of shipment. I think paying attention to the environmental impacts associated with our food is important, and I think there is a lot that can be improved as far as agricultural policy which has some pretty perverse incentives, but I have to say it seems like a lot of food policy advocates are being sort of mystical about the whole thing.
posted by I Foody at 2:40 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


the White House currently stocks around 500-600 bottles.

That just means the motherfucker drank all the rest.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2009


In this day of high unemployment and disposable employees, I think it's right to keep the chef who is apparently doing a good job.
Well said. I'm sure if the Obamas want to encourage use of more locally-grown, environmentally sustainable food, she's perfectly capable of handling that request. I think basically a bunch of foodie fame-whores were hoping that Obama would give them a public stage in the form of a position as white house chef, and they're upset they won't have one.

That said, I can't imagine a more irritating job than being White House chef for Bush. The man's presidency is repleat with anecdotes of an obsession with eating peanut butter sandwiches and cheesburgers. It was as though they handed over a personal chef to a 9-year-old.
posted by deanc at 2:49 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Just in case Al Qaeda had sought to assassinate Bush by poisoning his beloved Chex mix pretzels?"
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:51 PM on February 7, 2009


These wines may have presence, but it's not a presence I want in my mouth.

I got a presence for your mouth right here!
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:52 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter : obnoxiously oaky
posted by liza at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2009


Translation: Goodbye "ribs", Hello "tofu".

While you sound like the kind of person who takes far too much pride in his ignorance to actually want to education himself, just in case I'm wrong you might want to take a look at this week's Chez Panisse menu.
posted by aspo at 3:03 PM on February 7, 2009


That said, I can't imagine a more irritating job than being White House chef for Bush.

About two years ago I made the comment that it was almost worth registering "Colin Powell" for a quick one liner, but the thread was old so I didn't.

Right now I'm picturing:

I can.
posted by Colin Powell at 5:20 PM on February 7 [+] [!]

and crying on the inside.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:21 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The man's presidency is repleat with anecdotes of an obsession with eating peanut butter sandwiches and cheesburgers. It was as though they handed over a personal chef to a 9-year-old.

Well, I loathe Bush, but I love a good cheeseburger. And somebody from Bush's old money background is probably really more comfortable with caviar and lobster* anyway. But why let the Republicans steal possesion of a perfectly good meal.

*I love caviar and lobster, too. I just couldn't resist needling Bush. Why should they have all the fun.
posted by jonmc at 3:24 PM on February 7, 2009


Hmmmm, piss off foodies or the Filipinos?

Having written an unfavorable review of Jollibee on my blog and gotten death threats as a result, I would say Obama's got it right. Don't piss off Filipinos.
posted by queensissy at 3:30 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is there any reason to have a "rachaelray" tag?

And, honestly, Comerford is clearly experienced at the particular food needs of the White House, even if the previous occupant was all about his hot dogs. President tells you he wants lasagna for dinner, you're making lasagna. 500 seat state dinner on Thursday night and you're planning for that while you're boiling noodles and digging out the organic ricotta. You have to be as much an organizer and an improviser as you are a head chef. And those state dinners you're representing the country's cuisine in front of people from other countries who may still look down on American food as nothing by hot dogs.

Yeah, if I were president I'd love to have Tom Keller running the kitchen. But for as much as I'd like to eat French Laundry food every night, sometimes I wouldn't mind some unfancy stuff like fried chicken and potato salad. Or just a nice green salad.

And that wine guy is just hilariously snooty. Drop the ban on non-American wines? I'm not seeing Sarkozy or Berlusconi hauling out cases of Oregon pinot noir when Obama comes by for dinner.
posted by dw at 3:41 PM on February 7, 2009


♫ hot pocket ♫
posted by furtive at 3:42 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the whole, Phillipino VS Filippino dichotomy.

Is one racial, while one is cultural?

Either way, I'm all for them getting their chance at taking the world by storm.
posted by Balisong at 3:53 PM on February 7, 2009


All I know is that you put either spelling into Ebay and you get different products.
posted by Balisong at 4:00 PM on February 7, 2009


And... I blame bush.
posted by Balisong at 4:07 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obviously, we need to create 4,000,000 new "shovel-ready" jobs for Top Chef flunkies and pretentious sommeliers...
posted by markkraft at 4:22 PM on February 7, 2009


Balisong -- Slate had a pretty decent write-up of the difference, if you're really interested. The basic difference is linguistic variance between Spanish and Anglicized references to Spanish. The islands were named by the Spanish after King Felipe II (known in English as Philip II). Hence, "Las Islas Filipinas" are inhabited by "Filipinos", though the nation is known as 'The Philippines' for the same reason that most folks refer to 'Deutschland' as 'Germany'.

Except, in our indigenous alphabet, we have no equivalent for the 'F', so we substitute 'P'. Thus, the accepted reference Tagalog, it is 'Pilipino' or the more informal 'Pinoy'. But to all the rest of y'all, just use 'Filipino' and everyone stays happy.

On topic -- whenever a middle-aged American man finds out that I am Filipino, 7 times out of 10, the next words out of their mouth are, "oh, that's great. My (brother / best friend / co-worker) married a Filipino woman. Gosh, she's a good cook. She makes these great little spring rolls ... what do you call them?"

So, yes, it's always nice to be associated with a positive image, but as with all stereotypes, one sometimes wishes for a more diverse set of accomplishments, besides achievements in feeding the colonial masters; or being involved as a proxy in their culture wars.
posted by bl1nk at 4:35 PM on February 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


aspo, you beat me to the Chez Panisse punch, thanks for pointing out that local, organic, & healthy does not mean tofu.

Wines are decent except for the Korbel. Of all the great California sparkling wines, that would be one of my last choices. I'd go with Roederer, myself.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:38 PM on February 7, 2009


To the best of my knowledge, tofu is not mentioned as an ingredient in any of Alice Waters' cookbooks. That said: to the best of my knowledge, Alice Waters has also not set the menu at Chez Panisse for a very long time. "Over the years, Waters' role at Chez Panisse has been that of proprietor, iron-willed visionary, and taster-in-chief, rather than chef or businesswoman." - Wikipedia

Is there any reason to have a "rachaelray" tag?

The "White House kitchens" link is a page on the Rachael Ray website. If that's not a good enough reason, consider it a satire on her omnipresence.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:57 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Obamas absolutely need to start a serious garden in their efforts to green the White House (fuckit, they're dorky enough to call it the Green House and get away with it, right?) They have enough land on the WH lawn to devote a serious chunk of it to a beautifully-designed, completely functional, historically-appropriate kitchen garden, with serious attention paid to heritage strains, possibly a small orchard or at least some espallied fruit trees, and goddamit, chickens. They could then partner with local schools or farmers' markets. Fuckit, they could bottle their own damn wine. That would employ at least a hundered people right there, right?
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:34 PM on February 7, 2009


I too wish that Michael Pollan was more involved. I had such high hopes after Obama mentioned him.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:18 PM on February 7, 2009


Translation: Goodbye "ribs", Hello "tofu".

Not necessarily. Soy is one of the most genetically-modified foods out there. Most people who are passionate about sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming practices are somewhat red-hot on the subject of GMO. Plus you've been rather skewered by the Chez Panisse link, so I'll leave it at that. (Side note, I'm using the Chez Panisse book on vegetables to create a menu for something in August. The book is unbelievable.)

Is organic food actually better for the environment?

Yes, but it's part of a long chain. First of all, organic means no pesticides, no petroleum products, growing things that are in (relative, hopefully) harmony with the local environment because you're not using some GM corn so it'll grow in Alaska. Second--when it comes to meats--you're not pumping the animals full of hormones and antibiotics which wash into the water supply as well as being absorbed into our bodies (and thence also into the water supply as we excrete them). And yes, organic farming does need more land for the same sort of yields we've come to expect from agribusiness, but all that means is needed intensification in cities--grow up, not out. The longer-term benefit from that is we would have to stop relying on cars as much, and much more on public transit, which is far more energy-efficient.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alice Waters may be a fine chef and I admire some of her efforts around food (there is a school project she's involved where the kids grow and cook their own school lunches - this should be standard in every school), but she can also be very annoyingly self-righteous. I've met her at an academic forum and asked her questions, and she seemed to have very little understanding or sympathy for lower class families and the realities of their lives when it came to food choices and preparation time.

Nor have I heard her speak much about agricultural policy beyond simply the buying choices of the upper middle class. Whereas what Michael Pollan has impressed me with its scope - he writes about the entire agricultural industry and the adverse health and environmental effects of our overly specialized system. It's not just about buying local, though that is good. We also need to move back to a mixed farming system, whereby liivestock and arable crops are raised together - it would reduce livestock crowding, improve their health and the quality of the meat, and reduce or eliminate the need for petroleum based fertilizers.

About GM and the environment - a GM crop might be much better for the environment than non-GM. For example, there are GM strains of cotton which don't require as much pesticide as regular cotton, which is great. There are also scientists looking to develop a GM strain of cotton with edible seeds (currently cottonseed is poisonous), so that people can grow a cash crop and have food oil at the same time.

Whether GM is good for the environment or not depends entirely on what kind of M the G is getting. The realities of agricultural economics are such that most GM research is looking into making more high-yeild but still very fertlizer dependent maize or pesticide-ready canola - because western industrial farmers have more money to spend on the seeds than developing world small farmers. But there are researchers working on trying to develop crops which are better for both the environment and for people - requiring less pesticide, producing more food, surviving more difficult conditions.
posted by jb at 8:33 PM on February 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


she seemed to have very little understanding or sympathy for lower class families and the realities of their lives when it came to food choices and preparation time

Anthony Bourdain totally nailed Waters in this interview:
Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic.
posted by asterix at 9:06 PM on February 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


What are the credentials of the White House projectionist? At the very least the Obama administration should require NY Film School and the credit card funded production of a Sundance sensation on the resume. Is there a petition we can sign? Look at what is presently tops the box office: Taken; Paul Blart, Mall Cop; The Uninvited; Hotel for Dogs. How can a nation grasp the promise of its Constitution when the minds of its citizenry are besieged by such tasteless dreck? How can we move forward knowing that next week it may be poopie jokes from the Pink Panther 2 being retold for giggles in our nation's cubicles and around its water coolers? And behold what even the more refined audiences are celebrating: Slumdog Millionaire, a shameless crowd-pleaser that flatters rather than challenges its viewers. We need a Programmer to the Chief Executive. Goodbye Will Ferrell, goodbye post Freaks and Geeks Judd Apatow, your frat school hijinx went out with the frat boy. Let the land know that the Obamas shed tears for the quiet dignity of Wendy and Lucy. Let the Muslim world know that they have Persepolis on DVD and have watched it several times. And how will we keep the old disputes in our fractured world from reasserting themselves in this time of global economic challenge? An Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective for the month of March, that's how. This is change we can believe in.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:58 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obama hired a new chef -- this famous young guy, Sam Kass, from Chicago -- to work alongside the current White House chef hired during the Bush administration.

Kass is beloved by the foodies, with a "a particular interest in healthy food and local food," according to Michelle Obama's spokesperson.
posted by kenlayne at 10:56 PM on February 7, 2009


I agree Alice Waters suffers from cranky old person syndrome, and in the past few years it has gotten much much worse. However you still have to give her respect for her being a major force in changing the way generations of Americans think about food. Like many visionaries, once her visions became conventional wisdom it became a lot easier to forget just how important she was.
posted by aspo at 11:20 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


You also have to give respect to Ms. Waters for being able to make a shoe palatable enough for Werner Herzog to eat. I'm sure he would have tried to eat it boiled without her, but he would have come in to some problems during the sole portion.
posted by queensissy at 12:35 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


They should hire Gordon Ramsay. It would be awesome to see him screaming curses at the White House cooking staff.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2009


What's wrong with tofu AND ribs? I mean, I thought this administration was about a progressive zeitgeist.

*will mess up a plate of ribs*
*will mess up a plate of tofu*
*must be a moderate*
posted by cheap paper at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


jb - Thank you! I'm always amazed that the same people who want to reduce pesticide use and (ostensibly) increase food production can be so blanket anti-GM. It sort of reminds me of pro-lifers who oppose birth control.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:21 PM on February 8, 2009


You know those "elites" the Republicans were so vociferously mocking during the last election?

Alice Waters and Mike Steinberger were precisely the kind of self-entitled twits who they were referring to.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:02 PM on February 8, 2009


They should hire Gordon Ramsay. It would be awesome to see him screaming curses at the White House cooking staff.

Except, y'know, he really only screams like that on (American) camera.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:16 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bean Plate One.
posted by roombythelake at 7:36 PM on February 8, 2009


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