Former President George H.W. Bush’s personal chef remembers the time that Barbara Bush conspired with him to try to slip a broccoli salad past his boss.
As president, Bush famously proclaimed his disdain for the cruciferous vegetable, declaring that he never liked it since his mother made him eat it as a child.
So readers of Ariel De Guzman’s “The Bush Family Cookbook” may be surprised to find a broccoli salad as one of the more than 200 favorite family recipes included in the collection.
The salad, which combines broccoli with red onions, golden raisins, crumbled bacon and toasted sunflower seeds in a dressing of mayonnaise and vinegar, was a hit with everyone but Bush, who picked up the bowl only to pass it around to others for second helpings, De Guzman recalled.
But he said the ex-president’s feelings about broccoli do not reflect a dislike for fresh vegetables and he is particularly fond of spinach, asparagus and snow peas.
Beyond sharing recipes enjoyed by the Bushes and their guests, the book tells the inspiring story of a young man from a small town in the Philippines who joined the U.S. Navy and worked his way up from stewardsman aboard destroyer tenders to Bush’s personal steward in the White House.
De Guzman, 57, joined Bush’s staff while he was vice president and has spent more than 20 years cooking and managing the household for the former president and first lady. Still thrilled with his job, he is treated like family and travels with the Bushes when they make their seasonal shuttle between Houston and their oceanfront retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine.
De Guzman had completed his third year of college and was preparing to follow his mother’s footsteps into teaching when he learned that his latest Navy application had been accepted.
After 10 years at sea, he went on to 15 years of shore duty. His big break came when he was assigned to work for Bush, who was then vice president, at his Victorian-style residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. He remained with the family as it went on to the White House after the 1988 election and into retirement four years later.
During his time with the Bushes, De Guzman has prepared meals for such visiting world leaders as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmet Kohl of Germany and Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. He has also cooked for such entertainers as Kevin Costner and Reba McEntire.
De Guzman described Kennebunkport as “my place of showmanship,” saying its relaxed atmosphere is more conducive to entertaining than in Houston. And unless the guest has an allergy to shellfish, the choice of entree is preordained.
“It’s expected. They have to have a lobster when they’re in Maine,” he said.
De Guzman prefers to steam his lobsters and often serves them outdoors as part of a traditional New England clambake. But in a break with orthodoxy, he recommends light olive oil mixed with lemon juice, rather than drawn butter, for dipping.
Barbara's egg lessonHis cookbook also includes a striped bass recipe, but the author said the fish he places under the broiler for the ex-president come from the local market and are not the ones that Bush may have reeled in from local waters an hour or two before dinner.
The ex-president usually throws back what he catches, De Guzman said, although he will come back with a keeper or two in response to a request from the kitchen staff.
As a key member of the Bush household, De Guzman is privy to the family’s triumphs and disappointments but is a model of discretion in what he reveals. Still, he couldn’t resist sharing an incident last spring in Houston that reinforces the need to have him around in the kitchen.
The ex-president once phoned his chef from Houston to tell him how his wife’s plan to make egg salad for the two of them triggered a kitchen disaster.
Barbara Bush set a dozen eggs to boil, then went upstairs to read her e-mail. The fax then started to receive, she read those messages and forgot what was on the stove. When the smoke alarm sounded, Secret Service agents rushed in to find the pot blackened and smoking and all the eggs exploded.
“The whole kitchen island, sink, stove, ovens, refrigerator and the ceiling above the stove were covered with egg whites, egg yolks and egg shells,” De Guzman recalled. George Bush, returning from his office, stood atop the island scrubbing and scraping egg stains off the ceiling.