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Nov '08

First Female White House Chef Faces Uncertain Future, Tastes of New President

Presidential SealDepending on the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election, Cristeta Comerford, the first female executive chef in White House history may end up having to look for new employment.

Since John F. Kennedy’s presidency, it has been customary for the First Lady to select the White House chef that will create the meals that she believes will best represent the taste and style of the current administration to visiting foreign dignitaries and guests.

As the Associated Press states:

“Before the Kennedy administration, the position of White House chef was held sporadically. Many presidents and first ladies preferred to have the family cook prepare everyday meals while receptions and state dinners were catered, according to the White House Historical Association.”

Comerford made her official public culinary debut as new White House chef for the Bush Administration preparing lunch and three dinner courses for Britain’s Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, according to the West Virginian newspaper Charleston Daily Mail.

The current White House kitchen is surprisingly modest, with 12 burners, five sinks and a hanging rack with batteries of pans. A total of five full-time chefs are employed to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hors d’oeuvres to more than 1,000.

(You can see modern and historical photos of the White House Kitchen here.)

Describing Comerford’s personal cooking style, this Washington Post article goes on to state:

“In her 10 years at the White House, however, her specialty has been ethnic and American cuisine. What pleased First Lady Laura Bush is the way Comerford can more than satisfy the president with a lunch of enchilada or cheeseburger, then turn around to cook a state dinner that pairs chilled asparagus soup and lemon cream with pan-roasted halibut and basmati rice (with pistachio nuts and currants). In fact, the dinner for 134 guests held in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won Comerford the job.”

Before Cristeta held the position, previous White House chefs included Rene Verdon for the Kennedy Administration and Henry Haller, who served as chef under presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

Walter Scheib III, was hired by former First lady Hilary Clinton and went on to serve George W. Bush until 2005, when he was replaced by Cristeta Comerford who had been working under Scheib as his assistant chef.

As Scheib said in this New York Times article, “Picking Cris as the first woman chef is a good publicity move…but it’s not about being a man or a woman. She’s an exceptional chef. I saw that when I hired her. Mentally she is tough as nails, is very strongly focused and a very talented culinarian.”

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