March 28, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Lips are sealed
about the presidential meal

The White House has thrown up a strict no-talk zone over the dinner menu for the president's whirlwind Friday fundraising mission to Maine. But here's what we know.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

What will President Obama eat when he comes to Portland for a campaign fundraising dinner on Friday?

click image to enlarge

Then-Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, have breakfast at a diner in Pittsburgh during the 2008 presidential campaign. Nobody's talking about what will be on the menu at Friday's Portland fundraiser for the Obama re-election campaign (though we do know what wines will be served – see "Heard it through the grapevine," below).

2008 File Photo/The Associated Press

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Ned Swain of Devenish Wines has selected a couple of modestly priced whites to accompany a campaign fundraising dinner for President Obama in Portland.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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If you can't afford to go to the Obama campaign fundraising dinner Friday night, you can at least sample the wines that will be served.

Ned Swain of Devenish Wines, who volunteered to choose appropriate wines for the meal, says they are choices available around Portland that anyone could afford.

"These are wines that retail for approximately $13 to $14," he said. "They're really nice, handmade, great wines, but they're not really high-end expensive things."

Swain has heard that the president is partial to full-bodied white wines. So, barring last-minute changes, he's planning to start with an Oregon white wine, Illahe Gruner Veltliner 2010, which the winemaker's website says tastes of "tart grapefruit, radish, honey, and white pepper."

Swain said the wine is "pretty rare, pretty unusual."

"There's almost no Gruner Veltliner grown in Oregon," he said. "This comes from a tiny, completely sustainable family winery and is a pretty full-bodied, aromatic white wine."

Swain's choice for the main course is a French wine, Alexandre Monmousseau Vouvray Sec "Ammonite" 2009, from the LoireValley.

Swain was in France just last week to visit Monmousseau, and was looking forward to saying to the winemaker, " 'Oh, by the way, I'm serving your vouvray to President Obama when I get back.' "

Swain wanted to make it clear that he had not spoken with the Obama campaign about the choices, so if there is any criticism over the fact that French wine is being served, it's his doing.

As a wine distributor, he cannot legally donate the wine himself, so it will be purchased through the museum's cafe, which has a liquor license.

Swain is thrilled that he's been given this opportunity.

"Who wouldn't want to serve wine to the president?" he said. "I think regardless of your political beliefs and preferences, he is the president of the United States. How often is this opportunity going to come around? Probably this is the one shot. I couldn't pass it up."

-- Meredith Goad



The White House has five full-time chefs.

The White House kitchen can serve 140 guests, and hors d'oeuvres to more than 1,000.

Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden was the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden there during World War II.

The White House executive chef is Cristeta Comerford, who is the first woman to hold the position.

Assistant White House chef Sam Kass (aka "the hot one") is the Obamas' personal chef and senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives.

-- Meredith Goad

He may sample a little Atlantic cod and wash it down with some wine from France or Oregon. Or he might not eat anything at all until he gets back on Air Force One.

Uncovering what's on the menu, and other details about the Obama dinner, has been about as difficult as finding a Republican who supports the president's plan for health care reform.

I mean, really, folks. You would think I was asking for nuclear secrets instead of what's going to be on donors' plates at the Portland Museum of Art.

In case you've been living under a rock, the president will be in town Friday for a fundraising reception at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, where as many as 1,700 people will be able to hear him speak.

Tickets for that event range from $100 for general admission to $10,000. The $10,000 donors will get to have their photo taken with the president.

A much smaller dinner, which about 100 people are expected to attend, will be held that evening at the art museum. Admission to that event ranges from $7,500 to $30,800.

Such prices might lead ordinary folks to think the menu will include gold-dusted scallops and artisanal hummingbirds fed by hand until they sprout diamond-encrusted wings. You would think the organizers would want to dispel such notions of fancy fare, especially since we all know Maine food tends to be locally raised and simply prepared.

But the museum's caterer, Aurora Provisions, was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and no matter how nicely and persistently I inquired about the food, they weren't talking.

So I approached Michael Czin, Northeast regional press secretary for the Obama campaign, to see if he would help a gal out. His reply was a simple, "We won't be able to accommodate your request."

Turns out the Obama campaign is as tough a nut to crack as the Food Network, which makes chefs who appear on its shows sign draconian documents practically promising financial ruin if they leak anything to the press.

I was able, however, to find out some information through other sources. I've confirmed that Browne Trading Company will be providing cod for one of the courses.

And I found out which wines will be served.

The rest is speculation, and for that I turned to two knowledgeable sources who have attended many of these events themselves.


Eddie Gehman Kohan is founding editor of the Obama Foodorama blog (, which documents the food policies and preferences of the Obama administration and the first family.

If the president is attending an event that includes food near Kohan, she somehow manages to get in. She is also part of Michelle Obama's regular print press pool.

Kohan is, ironically, a Republican, but believes that food is "the ultimate bipartisan issue."

My other source is Dorothea Johnson of Falmouth, founder of the Protocol School of Washington and former protocol adviser to the Joint Military Attache School in Washington, D.C.

Kohan told me the secrecy around the presidential menu is not unusual. Even the menus for the much lower-key "Dinner with Barack" events, in which supporters who donate as little as $5 are given the opportunity to have dinner with the president, are kept under lock and key.

(Continued on page 2)

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Assistant White House chef Sam Kass (aka “the hot one”) is the Obamas’ personal chef.

Courtesy photo


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