The First Chef of the United States of America

In November, the food world was aglow with who Barack and Michelle Obama would announce as the White House Executive Chef. I even pontificated on who it would be and thought of the myriad opportunities available to them. Plenty of folks though it would be a big name celebrity chef, someone who would make a splash. Ultimately it went to the person who already had the job. A Filipina by the name of Cristeta Comerford.

I had no idea that a Filipina was the executive chef to the White House. She has been a part of the food team since ’95 and Laura Bush announced her as executive chef in 2005. So that would make ‘Teta’ the first female executive chef, but also the first Filipina to hold the position as well. How cool is that?!

One of the many things that Laura Bush loved was that Cristeta could handle any type of meal. She was equally adept at cooking for five versus cooking for 500; the ability to adapt her menu and style is a strength. Her background and training was French, but she knew how to adapt, how to coax and make a great meal in any style. Think for a second about who she has cooked for. Bill and Hillary Clinton. George and Laura Bush. And I can’t even imagine who their guests might have been. Isn’t that a bizarre list? Each of the First Families probably had their favorite style of meal, yet Cristeta was able to handle them all! You know that Bill loved southern comfort food (Hillary was probably pro-salad and healthy). While the Bush’s had to be steak and potatoes people. Now Chef Comerford gets to be a part of the food identity of the Obama family.

I love the idea that Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha could be having chicken adobo for dinner. And that the girls will find themselves craving lumpia or halo halo. It’s great that the Philippines have an opportunity to showcase our food. She’ll be able to play with the menu and have new palates to test. Now that there is a bit more spotlight on Chef Comerford, maybe Filipino food can get its due. Filipino’s across the country should be proud that one of our own has made it.

Nonetheless it is exciting that Teta will continue to be the White House chef. Her history and background in food is quite strong and being involved with the White House for 13+ years, she knows what the job entails. And without having to make a splash by naming a big-name chef, the Obamas did make a splash by shining a light on the chef who was already in the house.

When Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of our United States of America during the inauguration, it will indeed be a historic occasion. Most of us will remember that day, much as how we remembered the day he was elected. For another group of us, we’ll shine with pride over a girl from the Philippines, one of 11 brothers and sisters. She learned how to cook from her mother, was able to leave Manila, carve a life on her own in the states, and is the chef for the most powerful man in the world. Congratulations to you Chef Comerford, you are truly an American success story. Historic indeed.

-Update 2/1 – Ok, so it’s been announced that the assistant chef to the White House is Sam Kass. The good folks at Serious Eats dropped the knowledge.

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