The State Dinner

In May of 2010 President Obama and Michelle Obama hosted their second state dinner, this one for President Felipe Calderón of Mexico.  At that time my friend Marje suggested that we serve the same menu to a coterie of our friends.  Finding a weekend for the eight of us to get together proved a challenge, however.  (President Obama probably didn’t have that problem with his 200 guests.)  For example, one couple spends the six months of summer in San Diego.  Consequently, the delay in hosting the dinner.

Rick Bayless was the White House guest chef.  His kudos follow; the bold emphasis is mine, so you can size up our “competition”.  I don’t know how many staff the White House had to cook and serve 200, but Marje and I did the cooking and serving for eight (with the help of my Mexican-American house-sitter who made the tamales).

Award-winning chef-restaurateur, cookbook author, and television personality Rick Bayless has done more than any other culinary star to introduce Americans to authentic Mexican cuisine and to change the image of Mexican food in America.

Rick is fourth generation in an Oklahoma family of restaurateurs and grocers. From 1980 to 1986, after studying Spanish and Latin American Studies as an undergraduate, and doing doctoral work in Anthropological Linguistics at the University of Michigan, Rick lived in Mexico with his wife, Deann, writing his now-classic Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From The Heart of Mexico (William Morrow, 1987).  The New York Times’s legendary Craig Claiborne hailed this work as the “greatest contribution to the Mexican table imaginable.”

In 1996, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine (Scribner) won the IACP National Julia Child “Cookbook of the Year Award”. The New York Times praised him as a writer who makes “true Mexican food user-friendly for Americans,” and Time Magazine hailed him as a “cookbook superstar.” Rick’s cookbook Salsas That Cook (Simon & Schuster), written with his wife, Deann, and JeanMarie Brownson, was published in 1999. At the 2001 James Beard Awards (the culinary equivalent of the Oscars), Mexico–One Plate at a Time, (Scribner) companion to the first season of the Public Television series by the same name , was singled out as the “Best International Cookbook”.

In 1987, Rick  having moved to Chicago, opened the hugely successful Frontera Grill, which specializes in contemporary regional Mexican cooking. Still today it remains one of Chicago’s hottest dining spots.  In 1988, Food & Wine Magazine selected Rick as “Best New Chef of The Year,” and in 1991, he won a James Beard Award for “Best American Chef: Midwest.” In 1995, he won another James Beard Award for “National Chef of the Year” as well as an award for “Chef of the Year” from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). In 1998, the Beard Foundation honored Rick as “Humanitarian of the Year.” In 2002, Bon Appétit honored him with the “Cooking Teacher of the Year Award”. 

On the heels of Frontera Grill’s success, Rick opened the elegant Topolobampo in 1989. Adjacent to Frontera Grill, Tobolobampo is one of America’s only fine-dining Mexican restaurants. Frontera Grill and Topolobampo have received glowing distinctions from such publications as Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Atlantic Monthly, Condé Nast Traveler, Zagat’s, The Wine Spectator, USA Today, Chicago Magazine and The Chicago Tribune. Topolobampo has been nominated twice by the James Beard Foundation as one of the most outstanding restaurants in our country. 

In 1996, Rick began the prepared food line of salsas, chips, and grilling rubs under the Frontera Foods label.  Frontera Foods went on to open Frontera Fresco—a food kiosk in the historic Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) building in 2005 in Chicago.

Rick resides in Chicago with his wife and daughter.  With his wife he runs Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. He is the founder of the Frontera Farmer Foundation, an organization that supports small local farmers and has been active in Share Our Strength, the nation’s largest hunger advocacy organization.

Rick is a restaurant consultant, teaches authentic Mexican cooking throughout the United States (he is a visiting staff member at the Culinary Institute of America), and leads cooking and cultural tours to Mexico.

Mexico—One Plate at a Time is currently in its fifth season on PBS. His cookbook with his 15 year old daughter, Lanie, titled Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures was nominated for a James Beard Award as well as  Rick’s sixth cookbook, Mexican Everyday

We had the party at my house, as I have the larger kitchen.  One friend wore her bracelet made from Mexican coins.  Another wore a cardigan, as she says Michelle Obama often does.

The White House dinner was served on the Clinton and Eisenhower china.  Our was served on my Grandmother Blair’s and Marje’s husband’s great-grandmother’s china, placed on Marje’s grandmother’s 100-year-old linen tablecloth with the napkins which her grandmother had embroidered (W for Walsh, but we considered it W for White House).

Our modified menu follows.  Marje made the ceviche, the sesame-cilantro crackers, and spent an hour and a half stirring goat’s milk to make the cajeta for the tart.  But her tour-de-force was the cooking of two different moles (one of which had 22 ingredients), which my house-sitter and I tasted in a blind test in the morning along with purchased moles from a well-know Mexican restaurant in town and a Mexican market.   Her two creations won hands down and we used the smoother of the two.  I made the ice cream, put together the slaw (although the carrots were not from the White House garden) and the tart, and roasted the marvelous beef.  (Recipes can be provided to the ambitious.)  Our friends brought their assigned wines.

Jicama, Carrot, and Pineapple Slaw with slices of Orange and Grapefruit
Picket Fence Chardonnay 2007 from the Russian River Valley
Ceviche of Mahi mahi
Sesame-Cilantro Crackers
California Corn-fed Beef and Grilled Green Beans
Black Bean Tamale in Oaxacan Black Mole

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from Napa Valley
Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from the Dancing Bear Ranch in Napa Valley
Chocolate-Pecan-Cajeta Tart with Goat Cheese Ice Cream sprinkled with Graham Cracker Crumble
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige, a Sparkling Wine from Napa Valley

Some of the conversation focused on the horrible shopping center shootings of the previous weekend.  One of my friends knew Judge John Roll, one of those killed, very well, and they had gone to the memorial service for him.  He had been a great judge, and younger than me.  So senseless.

I meant to take photos of all of the prepared courses, which looked beautiful, but in the dishing and the serving, forgot.  Hence one photo halfway through the main course. 

It was an incredible amount of work, but was also a lot of fun.


3 Responses to “The State Dinner”

  1. Lynn Shore Says:

    You do such interesting and fun “stuff”!

  2. robert williams Says:

    Dear Lynne, We expect no less for our state visit in February!

    Bob & Lynn

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