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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

"Eventually, they'll post photos in Flickr, which may or may not be the right dishes, and then the people he dined with will dish about it," Kohan said. "It's just this bizarre spotlighting that he's dining with citizens, but you can't know what he ate."

Even when the White House releases the menu for a state dinner, she said, it's often missing a course.

Certainly, security is an issue, but Kohan said the Secret Service has numerous other ways of dealing with that, including randomly selecting a dish for the president.

The disappointing truth is that, in most cases, he just doesn't eat. (Sorry, $30,000 donors. Sorry, cooks.)

"More than half the time when the president shows up at a dinner, he doesn't actually eat the food," Kohan said.

"Air Force One has two kitchens on it," she continued, laughing. "He is definitely not lacking for sustenance. The fundraisers are more so he can speak and mingle and greet the guests. There are remarks that usually his (press) pool are allowed to hear, and then they are ushered out and he has private time with the guests."


If you are attending one of these events and anticipate being in a receiving line or having your photo taken with the president, do Maine proud (and do the president a favor) and don't get all star-struck and act a fool, like you're chatting with George Clooney.

Johnson says it's OK to shake the president's hand and speak to him first. ("This is not royalty.") But just say "hello" and move on. There will be lots of people in line behind you who want their chance. And let's face it, it's not like Obama is going to remember who you are come Saturday morning.

"Mamie Eisenhower was known as someone who would hand your hand right to the next person," Johnson said.

President Clinton had the opposite attitude, and was known for holding up receiving lines because he liked talking to the guests.

Barbara Bush used to invite Johnson and her students to events when George H.W. Bush was vice president. She told Johnson it annoyed her when people would go on and on and on.

"Barbara Bush said people would want to know, 'How are you,' and she would feel like saying, 'My feet are killing me. I feel terrible,' " Johnson said, laughing. "And she said they would say, 'Well, that's so wonderful to hear.' You know, people never pay attention to what you're saying."

Guests at the dinner can speak to the president, but it is never proper for the staff to chat him up, Johnson said. She said it's likely someone will be training the staff in the do's and don'ts of serving the president before Friday night.

"They have to be very careful that the staff does not try to talk to the president," she said. "I remember when a waiter was fired at the White House for telling President Reagan a joke."

Kohan says the Obama fundraiser receiving lines are like "well-oiled machines."

"If it's a photo receiving line, it's literally a handshake, how are you, and then you pose for the photo," she said.

Wouldn't a menu look nice framed alongside that photo taken with the president?

Yeah, I think so too.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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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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