Saturday, November 15, 2008

Who'll cook for the Obamas?

The changing of the guard at the White House may include the chef -- but not necessarily.

Cristeta Comerford, 45, a naturalized citizen originally from the Philippines, is the first female executive chef in the White House. Comerford, who started her career in the United States at the Sheraton near Chicago's O'Hare Airport, had worked in the White House kitchen for 10 years before being named to the post in August 2005. At the time of the appointment, Bonnie Moore, a former assistant chef at the Inn at Little Washington who is president of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, a national group that had urged Mrs. Bush to name a woman, said naming Comerford to the position "sends a message around the world. Women make up more than 50 percent of food service workers, but hold less than 4 percent of the top jobs. And this is the top job."

Usually, the chefs are not replaced just because of a change in the Oval Office. The first White House executive chef, Rene Verdon, was brought in by the Kennedys to class up the fare; he was promptly fired by Johnson because he wouldn't provide the new president's Texas favorites.

Although the Obamas ate plenty of fried stuff and pizza on the campaign trail, that's not their favored mode of eating.

"Apparently he is not into carbs," said Denver chef Daniel Young, who cooked for Obama at the Democratic National Convention. "I made lots of fresh, healthy foods."

Young was mentioned in a New York Daily News earlier this week as a possible pick for White House chef. Although Rick Bayless and Charlie Trotter have been mentioned as possible White House chefs, I’d lay money that it won’t be someone with an existing restaurant empire. Young or Art Smith, who has cooked for Oprah Winfrey, would be more likely -- although an up-and-coming chef, one who is a great cook and versatile menu planner who may not have yet made it onto the public radar, would get my vote. 

And don’t count out Comerford; why kick out a youngish, minority woman for a older white guy? Change? Maybe not the best policy in this case.

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