By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
It is considered a White House state dinner, and it happens every year when the nation's governors come to town. So planning for the event began even before President Obama was elected. Food would be seasonal and wine regional, an American farm-focused pattern pursued by former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. But then Barack and Michelle Obama arrived, and, well, change happened. The kitchen staff, inspired by the Obamas' organic focus, tweaked the menu and even the wine choices to highlight organic foods.
"I really got caught up in what they want to do so that at the last minute, I had to change my whole perspective," says White House food and beverage manager Daniel Shanks, the nation's sommelier. "They talked to us about their vision," he says, referring to the first family and their personal chef, Sam Kass, now at the White House. "They are really excited about being able to show to the world that there's a better way in a positive, healthy manner. We need to eat better. We need to take care of the land," says Shanks. He calls theirs a natural progression for the White House kitchen.
But organic wine? Hard to do, says Shanks, the former boss at Napa's famed Domaine Chandon restaurant, since bugs, mold, and fungus are part of winemaking and often have to be treated with chemicals. But he found three vineyards for the dinner that just about met the organic, chemical-free standard: California's Spottswoode, Oregon's Archery Summit, and Michigan's Black Star Farms. "We didn't change the quality," he says of the last-minute wine swap. "We just changed the thought pattern."
It must have worked, because for the first time in memory, the presidential toast was followed by the introduction of the White House chefs, who explained the menu. "It's a different world," says Shanks. "This is an entirely forward-looking project."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR
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