|Hail to the ChefFrom squirrel soup, roasted opossum, and hard cider for breakfast, to jelly beans, chowder, and elegant French multi-course dinners, the United States presidents’ and their wives’ personal food preferences and entertaining styles is a fascinating glimpse into a different kind of politics. George Washington had broad tastes, but preferred soft foods because of his dentures. John Adams was known for starting his day with a morning gill (a quarter pint) of hard cider, which he considered a salubrious habit. Thomas Jefferson was a passionate explorer of food ways, enthralled by French cuisine and southern cooking. His Virginia garden almost read like a Baker Creek heirloom seed catalogue including French tarragon, soybeans, Italian grapes, and Texas peppers. His insistence on finding a French chef while in office invited a more refined atmosphere into political dining. James Madison’s wife Dolly was the White House’s first full-time First Lady and an exemplary hostess. During the Madisons’ time in Washington, the couple not only dined with foreign and domestic dignitaries, but hosted the public every Wednesday for dinners which “became known as the ‘Wednesday evening squeeze’” because they were so popular. She is also credited for bringing ice cream to the White House; her favorite flavor being Potomac River Oyster Ice Cream.
Although Abe Lincoln hosted elaborate White House dinners, he was a simple and light eater, his preferred beverage was water, and he was very fond of the taste of home: apples, honey and gingerbread. Andrew Garfield enjoyed squirrel stew, and Harding’s men-only card nights were fueled by sauerkraut and knockwurst.
During the Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt charged the kitchen with creating seven and a half cent meals and planted a victory garden on the White House front lawn. Mamie Eisenhower concurred with the frugal approach and proclaimed “I could squeeze a dollar so tight, you could hear the eagle scream”. Mamie Eisenhower gladly incorporated leftovers in the meals. Maybe that is one reason Dwight Eisenhower loved to cook. Jackie Kennedy replaced Eisenhower’s cook with a classically trained French chef, René Verdon, and sought to bring sophisticated dining back to the White House. Lyndon B. Johnson hosted his first state dinner at his Texas ranch, and served barbecue and beans to West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. In 1972, Richard Nixon practiced dining with chopsticks for months in preparation to join China’s Premier Zhou Enlai and 600 other guests for a banquet in the Great Hall of the People. Chopsticks aside, the bigger challenge might have been the menu. Nixon’s favorite dish was reportedly cottage cheese and ketchup.
Reagan kept a jar of jelly beans nearby to refrain from smoking, and George H.W. Bush snacked on fried pork rinds with Tabasco sauce. Vegetable gardens returned to the White House with the Clinton’s roof top garden and a more ambitious one was planted on the south lawn during the Obama administration.
Surprisingly, with all the history being made during the elaborate public entertaining and the private dining, the White House kitchen dimensions make it look almost like an afterthought. The main kitchen and pantry are about twenty-two feet by twenty-seven feet but this small space surely has more tall tales to tell.LBJ enjoying barbecue in his home state of Texas.
|Say CheeseWe first met food photographer, Renee Comet, in 2014 during an update of our website. Since then, we’ve developed a working relationship capturing the beautiful dishes our talented chefs create.
Renee was studying to be a nurse when she took a photography class on the side and took an instant liking to the craft. On a friend’s mom’s suggestion, she decided to pursue her new passion professionally. She started out working as an assistant and then received an offer to shoot a Time Life Cookbook and the rest is history. She’s been taking photos of dishes and making them look as good as they taste. She can’t imagine shooting anything else besides food! Despite her passion for food, Renee does prefer to stay out of the heat of the kitchen (literally in the case of a shoot where she was asked to photograph charbroiled chicken breast with live, leaping flames). In her own kitchen, she would rather leave the cooking to others and just stand back and enjoy the story of a dish and how food connects everyone. Her love of the creative side of food inspired her to create Comet Cloths, a collection of kitchen towels and aprons, adorned with some of her favorite shots featuring colorful ingredients like eggplants and blue crabs.
Renee says that she loves the creative process involved in a shoot with Classic. We start with a rough shot list and some inspirational photos and then from that original idea or “seed”, we let it evolve and grow and develop into a story and a place that you want to be; creating a whole world on a 3’ x 3’ table top. Renee loves to capture the variety of the plates and possibilities that we produce. From churros drizzled in the perfect array of caramel sauce to a Japanese table scape with dumplings and Asian vegetables, Renee is able to perfectly capture it all. She loves that it’s a team effort, from the chefs in the kitchen, to her food stylist, Lisa, and her digital tech, Steve, everyone contributes to the perfect shot. Of course, she’s learned a few tricks along the way but says that lighting plays the biggest part in making the food really pop and adding a glare to the food “makes it sing” along with juice or sauce that brings the dish to life and makes you want to grab a fork! She mentions a shot we did in 2021, a Tomahawk steak that had yet to be cooked arranged on a platter. By itself the dish was a bit too sterile, but after a thorough discussion, we decided to add a chunky salt and pepper on top that provided both texture, and a finesse that made it camera-ready.
Below check out a sneak peek from our shoot in January that we can’t wait to share with you!CheersSocial gatherings, sharing food and participating in rituals around drink span centuries, cultures and religions. The drink rituals often involved vessels unique to their purposes, the available materials and the imagination of the craftsperson. Serving wine from the Spanish porron brings amusement and often stains into any gathering. Made from glass, the pitcher has a handle and a very narrow spout from which the wine is poured into a glass or passed around communal style with the suspended in the air spout aimed hopefully at the drinker’s mouth. Across the way, the Scots welcomed visitors with whiskey or brandy served in a quaich, a cup of friendship. The word quaich derives from a Gaelic word meaning “shallow cup”. Drinking from the two handled vessel implies that there is trust among friends and the loving cup, naturally became a perfect gift for a wedding.
The drinking horn was used by the Vikings during feasts, ceremonies, and by the ferocious warriors before battle because they believed that it fortified them. Norse mythic tales are replete with gods and heroes imbibing from elaborately decorated horns.
The talents of the Japanese craftsman have created many different kinds of vessels for the ritual of drinking sake. The oldest type, the sakazuki, is shallow, wide mouthed, held with two hands and usually only contains a few sips and are used in traditional weddings. While the cup may be shallow, the Japanese rules of hospitality don’t allow the cup to stay empty for long. The masu, another vessel, is square and made from wood and originally was used as a measuring tool. Reishu-hai, usually made of glass and filled with cold sake was often placed in the masu. Always aesthetically pleasing, the vessels could also delight. There are sake cups that make bird sounds when drunk, ones with holes in the bottom that require the drinker to drain the cup before putting down and others designed with mounted warriors in mind.
Calabash, absinthe fountain, chalice, conch shell or claret jug… the list of vessels from which to imbibe is impressive. Or as Geoffrey Chaucer quipped, “So was hir joly whistle wel ywet”.Drinking from a porrónFrom Our Library, Harriet’s Pick: Black Food, Stories, Art & Recipes From Across the African Disapora edited and curated by Bryant TerryBlack Food, Stories, Art & Recipes From Across The African Diaspora is edited and curated by Bryant Terry. Terry is a vegan chef, cookbook author, and a food justice activist, as well as chef in residence at the Museum of Africa Diaspora in San Francisco, California. The book is built on his love and respect for the cherished women in his family, and a project he began at the museum. It is the culmination of his vow “to serve the needs, hopes and dreams of the people.” The compendium format of Black Food is inspired by Toni Morrison’s Black Book.
Terry includes recipes offered by colleagues that reflect their personal approach to preparing food based on history and memory, as well as looking forward and groups them thematically. The ingredients span the vast geographical territory present in the lives of the many new and old voices. Poetry, visual art, photography, essays, and even a playlist weave through the recipes, creating a lot of vehicles for story telling with the intent to push people to dig a little deeper or perhaps, make new connections. Considering that the reader will be easily tempted to prepare one of the global recipes, Black Food is a complete and powerful sensory experience.From our Kitchen: Lumpia (Filipino spring rolls)
Chef Marie Cris Garay
Every family has different secrets and variations to the recipe for Lumpia. When I think of lumpia/filipino spring rolls being made at my house, I hold these memories close: the sound the squish and squash of the meat while mixing, chopping and dicing of the onions and carrots, the sight of my father meticulously measuring each ingredient with his experienced eyes, my father leaning over a large tub full of ground pork and beef, almost using all of his energy and the strength of his hands to push and mix the ingredients into the meat. When it is time to wrap the meat, I would volunteer, my mother would tell me to carefully separate the thin spring roll wrappers from the stack to avoid tearing the wraps. Once the meat and vegetables are wrapped, some of the spring rolls are put in the freezer for a later day, or given away to family members and some will be set aside for dinner. This food has become part of my identity and I will always cherish the memories associated with making spring rolls. Ingredients:
1 package Lumpia wrappers (Chinese or Vietnamese spring roll wrappers meant for frying can be used) (25 sheets)8 oz. Shrimp, peeled, deveined and minced8 oz. ground veal8 oz. ground pork5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced1 inch ginger, peeled and minced3 tablespoons soy sauce1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder, optional1/2 tablespoon brown sugar2 eggs, lightly beaten1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper1 whole red onion, peeled and minced2 stalks of celery diced1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Method:Using a serrated knife, cut the square lumpia wrappers in half so that you have two stacks of rectangular wrappers. Place a damp paper towel over the wrappers to keep them from drying out as you work.Combine the shrimp, veal, pork, carrots, garlic, celery, onion, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, chicken bouillon powder (if using), eggs, and ground black pepper in a large bowl. Using your hands, or a rubber spatula, mix the filling well so that the seasonings are evenly distributed.Place one of the rectangular wrappers vertically on your work surface with the short edge facing you. Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling on the wrapper about half an inch from the edge closest to you. Grasp the bottom edge of the wrapper and roll it up and over the filling, continuing to roll until 2 inches of wrapper remain.Dip two fingers into a bowl of water, then moisten the last 2 inches of wrapper with your fingers. Finish rolling the lumpia, then rest it on its seam. Continue rolling with the rest of the filling and lumpia wrappers.At this point, you can freeze your rolled lumpia if you wish by placing them in freezer bags and then into your freezer.To cook the lumpia, fill a large frying pan with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Gently place the lumpia into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes total (if frying frozen lumpia, it will take 1 to 2 minutes longer).Place the fried lumpia on paper towels and serve immediately with sweet and sour sauce or chili sauce (bottled from the store is fine). Click here to print the recipe.Classic Comicsby Katelyn West
February 1, 2023
February 2023: Presidents, Pictures & Porrons