When most of us land a new job or promotion, we often celebrate with a big meal — maybe a lobster or a steak, some wine, and of course, dessert. One look at the inaugural luncheon menu and it’s plain to see: politicians — they’re just like us!
After President Barack Obama is sworn in on Monday for his second term, he will head to National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building along with Vice President Joe Biden, their wives and more than 200 others for a feast. Among those joining them for lunch: members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members and other invited officials.
For those of us not invited, Matt House, press secretary for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), which organizes the luncheon, tells us that the mood inside is celebratory — not at all what you typically see in D.C.
“Each one is different,” he said, “but it’s a unique atmosphere you see only once every four years — Democrats and Republicans from all branches eating together in the same place. It’s really a celebration. It’s not about one person or one party but about democracy overall.”
And no one goes home hungry. Here’s what’s on the menu:
- Steamed Lobster with New England Clam Chowder Sauce
- Sautéed Spinach
- Sweet Potato Hay
- Hickory-Grilled Bison with Red Potato Horseradish Cake and Wild Huckleberry Reduction
- Butternut Squash Purée
- Baby Golden Beets and Green Beans
- Strawberry Preserve and Red Cabbage
- Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Aged Cheese and Honey Maple Caramel Sauce
- Artisan Cheeses
- Tierce Finger Lakes Dry Riesling (2010)
- Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée California Champagne
- Bedell Cellars Merlot (2009)
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., headed the JCCIC this year and chose the theme of “Faith in America’s Future” for the menu, putting a modern touch on long-popular American agricultural products. The veggies are from Virginia, the lobster is from Maine, the bison is from South Dakota, and the cheese and the paired wines are from upstate New York.
Cooperstown Cheese Company recently learned that two of its cheeses — the Jersey Girl Colby and Toma Celena, both raw milk cheeses — would be featured during the dessert course, alongside the apple pie.
“We got a call from Schumer’s office and they told us we were going to be on the menu — that was the entire process!” said Cooperstown co-owner Sharon Tomaselli. The senator apparently gave a list of cheese makers to the caterer, who then selected Cooperstown, she said. For security reasons, food producers are not informed about the luncheon until caterers receive the shipment.
“It is an honor, and we are really excited about it,” Tomaselli said. “Not much brings the Republicans and Democrats together nowadays, but I’m hoping cheese will do it!”
A tasty history
This year’s menu varies from ones in recent history in that it does not focus on foods from the home states of the president and vice president, said Suzy Evans, historian and author of the blog The History Chef. For example, John F. Kennedy dined on lobster with New England clam chowder and Texas rib beef, nods to his and Lyndon B. Johnson’s homes, respectively.
“It’s a bit of a departure,” Evans said. “This year’s menu highlights American agricultural heritage rather than just focusing on Obama and Biden.”
Obama’s first-term luncheon menu paid homage to the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, a fellow Illinoisan.
The luncheon at the Capitol as we know it today started in 1953, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Evans added, though the tradition goes way back in some form or another.
George Washington delivered his address, then went back home and dined alone, as Martha’s travels delayed her. Thomas Jefferson had a splashy affair by comparison, with 30 guests. And Andrew Jackson had to escape out the back door of the White House following his inaugural address, after 20,000 well-wishers swarmed the place, grabbing for cake, cookies and punch. He dined at a local hotel.
Controversy bubbles over Champagne
This year’s lunch, still a couple of days away, is not without some hullabaloo already.
Champagne lobbyists protested that the event’s special edition of a Korbel wine is not properly labeled according to a law that specifies that sparkling wines from California be classified as such, so as not to be confused with French Champagne.
But the organizing committee maintains that the labeling — “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California” — follows the law.
“The Champagne Lobby should have a glass of their own product and relax,” press secretary House retorted in a statement. “We are proud to be serving American Champagne at the inauguration.”
Want to dine as they will at the inaugural luncheon? Click here for the recipes!