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The Secret Behind ‘Mexican’ State Dinner at the White House

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When the White House hosted State Dinner for the Mexican President Felipe Calderon last month, it pulled out all stops, including inviting guest chef Rick Bayless, considered to be one of the “great gurus” of Mexican cuisine in the country. Bayless created the ‘Mexican’ State Dinner at the White House, which took even Calderon by surprise and had the media talking about it for days afterwards. President Obama with President Calderon at the White House

Bayless is the man behind one television program, six cookbooks and three restaurants: the Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco. The Obamas were regular visitors to his restaurants in Chicago before they moved to Washington. That was why Bayless was chosen to do the honors at the State Dinner and he proved his prowess by choosing iconic American ingredients and put them together with herbs and vegetables that were grown in the White House gardens. The result was a fabulous dinner.

However, the familiarity with the Obamas doesn’t mean that the James Beard Awardee chef was not surprised at being invited to the White House. In his own words, “I could hardly believe it. I kept going back to see if I actually had been invited or if it was a mistake….no, it is an amazing honor to be invited to cook at the White House.” The dishes for the State Dinner were, however, chosen beforehand after due consultation with first lady Michelle Obama and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford. The final menu for about 200 guests reflected the White House preferences and also the protocol of the Day.

The State Dinner began with a Jicama salad, which is a favorite Mexican recipe; a slaw that pairs Jicama (Mexican potato) with shredded radishes, red peppers, shredded carrots and cucumber, mixed in with a spicy-sweet dressing. The salad was served with oranges, grapefruit and pineapple citrus vinaigrette accompanied by a Chardonnay Ulisis Valdez Russian River 2007. Oregon Wagyu was the main dish at the White House State Dinner

The second course at the State Dinner was an herb green ceviche of Hawaiian opah (a kind of fish), served with sesame-cilantro crackers, and followed by the main dish, which was Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan black mole. Black bean tamalon and grilled green beans were served with the main dish. The beef was paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon Herrera Seleccion Rebecca 2006.

The dessert was chocolate-cajeta tart served with toasted homemade marshmallows, graham cracker crumble and goat cheese ice cream. The chosen drink for this course was Mumm Napa Carlos Santana Brut champagne.

The Mexican State Dinner is considered to be a “great departure” for President Obama. Explaining this, Bayless says, “The whole idea about a State Dinner – and people don’t usually understand this – but when you are hosting a dignitary from a foreign country it is not common to serve food from their country. It is common to serve them the best of American cuisine, because you are hosting them.”

However, in case of the visiting President Calderon, Chef Bayless brought out the “true flavors of Mexico” to the White House in the company of some fabulous American ingredients like the Wagyu from Oregon and the opah from Hawaii. Chef Rick Bayless was the star at the White House State Dinner

So impressed is Bayless with himself that he is planning to put the White House State Dinner menu as one of his tasting menus at Topolobampo soon. And he is not wrong in feeling so because the Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala told him more than once that “she loved the ceviche verde.” After her, it was the Mexican president himself who told Bayless, “it was one of the best mole negro he had ever had.”

The president was right and the praise well-deserved because the recipe takes about 7 hours to make and involves more than 20 ingredients. The most crucial part of this recipe is toasting chiles and Chef Bayless was worried that the aroma of chiles might waft out of the kitchen through the rest of the White House. However, the really good exhaust system of White House kitchen took care of that and the mole negro turned out to be quite delicious.

This is the second time that the Obamas have invited a guest chef to cook a White House State Dinner. The first time it happened was when Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson was asked to create a meal for the visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009.

The Mexican State Dinner at the White House made news, just like everything else associated with the present US President. However, one person, who remained unaffected by all this was the Chef Bayless himself, who shared his excitement with everyone else in the world on twitter.
(Photo Courtesy:,,

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The Secret Behind ‘Mexican’ State Dinner At The White House