Democrats? Republicans? The differences in political views fade away when you receive an invitation from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to attend a lavish state dinner in the nation’s capital. Over 200 guests, including the titans of technology at Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and Facebook, as well as distinguished representatives of diplomacy and the entertainment industry, joined the formal festivities in welcoming China’s President Xi Jinping and First Lady Madame Peng Liyuan to the White House.
With all eyes on Michelle Obama (I apologize, Mr. President), exquisitely attired in a custom-made off-the-shoulder black silk crepe mermaid gown dress by Chinese-American designer Vera Wang, the First Lady led the parade of beautifully dressed luminaries, which included the guest of honor, President Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, also a couture-savvy first lady, who selected a sparkling silk gown in aquamarine for this special occasion.
Making the A-list lineup were Facebook President Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chen, expecting their first baby in the not-too-distant future, Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison and Nikita Kahn, Apple CEO Tim Cook, seasoned diplomat Henry Kissinger and his wife Nancy, Hollywood’s Lee Daniels, Disney CEO Bob Iger, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and prima ballerina Misty Copeland, among others. Attired in tuxes (oh my, whatever happened to Mark Zuckerberg’s gray hoodie?) and gorgeous evening gowns, the VIP guests strolled joyfully to the opulent East Room for a uniquely decorated gourmet journey expertly prepared by the White House culinary team supervised by Cris Comerford, White House Executive Chef, and Susie Morrison, Executive Pastry Chef, who created and carefully selected the menu featuring delicacies inspired by Chinese and American culinary traditions.
In my communications with Deesha Dyer, the Obama administration’s Social Secretary at the White House, I learned that an award-winning Guest Chef Anita Lo, the owner of Annisa in New York, joined the White House chefs for this special dinner. Known for her inventive contemporary American cuisine, which reflects her passion for multicultural flavors and classic French training, Chef Lo, a first generation Chinese-American from Birmingham, Michigan, earned a degree in French at Columbia University before studying at the Ecole Ritz-Esscoffier culinary institution.
This was definitely not your aunt’s chicken chow mein supper. Guests dined on wild mushroom soup, poached Maine lobster, grilled cannon of Colorado lamb and poppyseed bread and butter pudding. Asian influences were everywhere in the dinner plan, down to the Meyer lemons in the curd lychee sorbet (the citrus fruit is thought to have originated in China and was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s). ‘’A Stroll Through the Garden’’ dessert display was a tribute to the beauty of gardens. Desiree Rogers, a former social secretary for President Obama who planned more than 300 events, mentioned, ‘’The goal of each state dinner is to really have them be over the moon.’’ I wonder if that’s why they included moon cakes on the dessert table display.
The ‘’Farm to Table’’ dinners have taken inspiration – and vegetables – from Mrs. Obama’s White House vegetable garden. Herbs and vegetables in season have been incorporated in two or three courses during the dinner. What’s growing there now includes basil, rosemary, thyme, chives, sage, parsley, figs, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, artichokes, sweet potatoes, and zucchinis. No wonder President Obama gave Pope Francis a gift of veggies, spices, and seeds from the First Lady’s garden.
Ever wonder if Michelle Obama gets an opportunity to cook now that she lives at the White House? With the enormously hectic schedule of the White House’s social calendar this week when the President and the First Lady hosted Pope Francis, President Xi Jinping, and a few upcoming VIP events the next week, who has time to cook?
In my communications with Ms. Dyer, I learned that state dinners are the most formal events that are hosted at the White House.
‘’This marks the tenth State Visit of the Obama Administration,’’ said Dyer. ‘’This visit reciprocates President Obama’s State Visit to China in November 2014. Previous visits include: India in November 2009, Mexico in May 2010, China in January 2011, Germany in June 2011, Korea in October 2011, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in March 2012, France in February 2014, Japan in April 2015, and the Holy See in September 2015.’’
As the glitzy gala dinner came to a grand finale amid the stunning décor, which included a 16-foot silk scroll depicting two roses that the White House said meant to symbolize ‘’a complete meeting of the minds,’’ I assumed the invited guests had a chance to read their fortune cookies with a message of ‘’Have Fun and Hope.’’ President Xi’s visit presents an opportunity to expand U.S. – China cooperation on a range of global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual interest, while also enabling President Obama and President Xi to constructively address areas of disagreement. Well, we all hope.
• Wild Mushroom Soup with Black Truffle
• Shaoxing Wine
• Butter Poached Maine Lobster with Spinach, Shiitake and Leek Rice Noodle Rolls
• Penner-Ash Viognier ‘’Oregon’’ 2014
• Grilled Cannon of Colorado Lamb with Garlic Fried
• Milk and Baby Broccoli
• Pride Mountain Merlot ‘’Vintner Select’’ 2012
• Poppyseed Bread and Butter Pudding with Meyer Lemon Curd Lychee Sorbet
• Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec 2011
All photos courtesy of the White House Press Office.
Lina Broydo immigrated from Russia, then the Soviet Union, to Israel where she was educated and got married. After working at the University in Birmingham, England she and her husband immigrated to the United States. She lives in Los Altos Hills, CA and writes about travel, art, style, entertainment, and sports. She hardly cooks or bakes, with no borsch or piroshky on her home cooking menu. Therefore, she makes reservations and enjoys dining out, mostly sushi.
By Lina Broydo