First Chef

21 Jan 2009

Amidst the lead up to Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th US president yesterday, foodies and sustainable farming advocates have been busy rallying support to help remedy the health and environmental problems created by conventional farming and the industrial food system.

Among various campaigns, high profile individuals and organizations have lobbied for a sympathetic White House Chef and the creation of an organic garden in a prominent position on the grounds, and made vocal recommendations for the Agricultural Secretary appointment and future policy directions.

Speculation on the new first chef ended a month ago when Michelle Obama announced that they would retain the current White House Executive Chef, Cristeta Comerford – who has commanded the kitchen since 2005 and is the first woman to hold the post.

Gourmet Magazine editor Ruth Reichl – along with Californian chef and vice-president of Slow Food Alice Waters, and New York restaurateur Danny Meyer – dreamt of a ‘first chef’ who would be a national culinary leader, and wrote to the Obamas offering to help head a committee to select a chef who would champion organic, sustainable, and seasonal cuisine.

Former White House Chef Walter Scheib, who trained Comerford, has said that much of what is being argued for is already standard practice in the White House. He was instructed by first lady Hillary Clinton in 1994 to, “change White House food service from a classical European, butter-and-cream aesthetic to a contemporary American cuisine that relied on seasonal, local and regional ingredients, including organics.”

He also utilized the kitchen garden on the roof of the private residence. “We grew plenty of things that we used in the kitchen. Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and squashes…they’d be started at the Park Service greenhouses, and brought over to the White House. We had fresh products from April to October, which we could physically harvest ourselves.”

However, campaigners are hoping for higher profile decisions, which would represent the start of a new era in food and agriculture policy, and set an example for the rest of the country.

Read more on the obamafoodorama blog

Milwaukee Sentinel

Bess Mucke
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