George Washington’s favorite foods were ice cream and fish. Abraham Lincoln enjoyed fruit salad, cheese and crackers. John F. Kennedy loved New England Clam Chowder, and George W. Bush is a big fan of Mexican food.
Understanding and tailoring a menu to the tastes and schedule of the President of the United States is no easy task. Pierre Chambrin, executive chef for the Saint Louis Club in St. Louis served as a White House chef under two presidents-George H. Bush and Bill Clinton. During his tenure in the White House from 1990 to 1994, he cared for the many culinary needs of the President, the President’s family and his guests.
“Being a White House chef is a challenging job,” Chambrin said. “Your hours depend on the President’s schedule and the schedule of his guests. It’s a fascinating position though, because in a way, you’re a small part of history as it happens.”
Chambrin oversaw a staff of five in the White House kitchen, which often ran more like a commercial kitchen than a private one. Among Chambrin’s largest dinners was a meal during the Clinton administration where he served a group of 1,200.
“Large dinners at the White House can be stressful because at the White House there is no margin for error; you cannot mess it up,” he said.
The expectations that come with the position of White House executive chef are similar to the expectations that come with running a top tier restaurant. Guests expect exceptional cooking, creative plating, and a dining area and utensils that are the pinnacle of cleanliness.
“A clean dining area, a clean kitchen and clean dishes are essential to the diner’s experience, whether at the White House or at a neighborhood restaurant,” Chambrin said. “The most appetizing dish loses its appeal if served with a dirty fork.”
Keeping a clean kitchen not only helps food keep its appeal but it also is a health factor. A properly cleaned kitchen and utensils help prevent bacterial cross contamination.
“The best defense against the dangers of bacteria is a clean kitchen,” said Janette Theis, assistant brand manager for Procter & Gamble Professional, the away-from-home division of Procter & Gamble that provides the foodservice industry with total cleaning and sanitizing solutions. “While it’s extremely difficult to make food preparation utensils and services areas, such as cutting boards, counter tops and cooking services fully bacteria-free, foodservice professionals can and should make every effort to reduce the amount of bacteria present and lower the likelihood of cross contamination of bacteria between food ingredients and prepared dishes.”
Theis said the best way minimize cross contamination, from the White House to the local neighborhood diner, is to choose a complete kitchen and sanitation program.
“The kitchen is composed of more than the sinks and countertops,” Theis said. “Maintaining a kitchen at five-star standards includes maintaining a clean floor, stove and refrigerator. Anywhere bacteria have the opportunity to grow and thrive increases the chance of spreading foodborne illness.”
And, as Chambrin said, the cleanliness of the kitchen is a reflection on the chef.
“Any good chef will have a clean kitchen,” he said. “My kitchen is, of course, spotless.”
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