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The first suppers: A tradition of inaugural meals

After the swearing in, it's time to eat. Obama's meal, based on Lincoln favorites, joins a time-honored custom of menus from lavish to austere.

January 14, 2009|Andrew F. Smith | Smith is editor of "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America."

"Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family," Obama said in a statement released last week by the president-elect's transition team. "Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families."

The Obamas eat at such well-regarded Chicago restaurants as Spiaggia and Rick Bayless' Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. Among some in the food community, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, there was hope that the White House chef would be a forceful public culinary voice.

Comerford, a native of the Philippines, was appointed in August 2005 to replace chef Walter Scheib -- making her the first woman in the job that entails managing and preparing food for the first family in private as well as for official functions. According to the White House website, she had worked as an assistant chef in the presidential home since 1995. Comerford is not giving interviews, a transition team spokeswoman said.

Waters, who along with Gourmet Editor Ruth Reichl (a former Times restaurant critic and food editor) and New York restaurateur Danny Meyer offered to advise the Obamas on food, says that she's happy Comerford is staying and that she hopes to meet with her Friday when she is in Washington. "I'm very pleased that it's not a celebrity, in the sense of someone who gave the impression that food was about going to fancy restaurants," Waters said Monday. "The idea is that good food is a right for all Americans and not just for the privileged people who can afford it."

There has also been a push for growing more food at the White House.

Thousands have petitioned for a garden on the "first lawn" -- providing "the local-est food of all," said Roger Doiron, founder of the nonprofit Kitchen Gardeners International, which started one such drive.

"America's house should have a garden," he said.

-- Mary MacVean


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