Guest chef raids White House garden for big dinner

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 5:04 PM

On a damp, chilly Tuesday, guest chef Marcus Samuelsson was still out tromping around the White House garden picking herbs for that evening's state dinner at the White House.

Samuelsson, the award-winning chef of Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York City, was brought in by first lady Michelle Obama to help prepare a largely vegetarian meal in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is vegetarian. At an afternoon preview of the dinner, Mrs. Obama called Samuelsson "one of the finest chefs in the country."

Samuelsson's mission: dinner for 320 using fresh, sustainable and regional foods that reflect the best of American cuisine and evoke the flavors of India.

The result: a menu featuring potato and eggplant salad, red lentil soup and roasted potato dumplings or green curry prawns.

Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and recently became a U.S. citizen, was out in the garden Monday night and Tuesday harvesting pineapple sage and arugula for the salad, oregano and thyme for the vinaigrette, fresh dill to garnish the soup, and thyme and marjoram for the curry paste. In addition, he selected garden herbs to garnish plates and trays of passed appetizers.

At age 39, Samuelsson has a resume that most chefs can only dream of. A graduate of the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, he was hired as Aquavit's executive chef in 1995 and three months later got a three-star review from The New York Times. He received the James Beard Foundation Award for "Rising Star Chef" in 1999 and was named "Best Chef, New York" in 2003. Samuelsson is the author of four cookbooks, most recently "New American Table."

Samuelsson was too busy fixing dinner on Tuesday to do interviews. But he said in a statement: "As a new American, it is particularly humbling to be part of the exciting and progressive direction the White House is pursuing in all things related to our rich diverse culinary heritage."

Samuelsson worked with White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford on the meal. The desserts _ including pumpkin pie tarts and pear tatin _ came courtesy of Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and his team. The pears were poached in honey from the White House beehive, and the desserts were garnished with mint and lemon verbena from the garden.