While President-elect Barack Obama fills his Cabinet, many foodies are wondering who will fill the ones in his kitchen.
Might the White House serve health-conscious fare from Chicago chef Charlie Trotter? Or could the Obamas embrace Mexican flavors of one of their favorite chefs, Rick Bayless?
“That's what people keep saying,” Bayless says, though he adds that he has not been contacted by the Obamas.
Obama's transition team says it's much too soon to speculate about culinary changes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And if history is any indication, the Obamas probably don't need to rush. The Clintons' chef, Walter Scheib, remained in the job into the current Bush administration. When he resigned in 2005, Laura Bush hired Cristeta Comerford, his deputy.
Still, it can be fun to dream, which is what eight chefs — some with ties to the Obamas — did when asked to cater a fictional inaugural dinner for the soon-to-be president and his wife.
The Obamas have described Bayless' award-winning Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago as their favorite, and he's already cleared his schedule for inauguration week, just in case.
Bayless says the Obamas always start with tortilla soup and guacamole when dining at his restaurant, so he would would put both on his menu.
He also would offer a green ceviche with Kona kampachi, a premium-farmed yellowtail fish from Kona, Hawaii, as a nod to Obama's childhood on the islands.
The main course would reflect Obama's mother's Kansas roots — roast ribeye from grass-fed beef served with red chili sauce with corn tamales, a preparation similar to one he knows they've enjoyed at the restaurant.
Dessert would be "something as American as apple pie," Bayless says, infused with goat-milk caramel. The meal then would be capped with a blend of Kenyan, Indonesian and Mexican coffee.
Healthy eating would guide Charlie Palmer, a chef whose Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant is a 7-minute walk from Capitol Hill. Obama has been seen dining there with people such as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
Palmer says he loves the idea that Obama could be an advocate for healthy eating, especially for young people.
His inaugural menu would include bison steak, which is lighter than beef; a side dish of a nutty risotto; and an exceptional wine, such as a Rochioli pinot noir.
The queen of 30-minute meals says that with the way the economy is hurting, she'd want to keep things casual.
She'd start by ditching the traditional formal dinner and serving party food, instead. “I'd have sliders,” she says. “What's more American than a hamburger?”
Ray would make miniature versions of burgers topped with things like blue cheese and arugula or honey-mustard cream sauce. She'd also make little Chicago-style hot dogs, deviled eggs and all kinds of things you can eat in two bites.
“Casual food makes you smile and puts you at ease,” and that, she says, is what this country needs.
Eric Ripert Ripert, whose restaurants include Le Bernandin in New York and West End Bistro in Washington, says he'd be inspired to create a menu that brings people together as much as Obama has.He would highlight different regions of the country by offering prawns from Santa Barbara, Calif.; scallop chowder from Nantucket Bay and stuffed quail with Wisconsin cheddar grits.
And for a comforting finish Ripert, who is a regular on Bravo's “Top Chef,” would end with an American favorite: peanut butter. Or rather, a peanut butter souffle.
Trotter, a health-conscious Chicago chef, is excited that the new president's penchant for healthy eating could generate interest in healthy foods.
Trotter's inaugural dinner would pay tribute to some of Obama's favorite foods, but also honor some healthy Midwestern dishes, such as white fish and salmon from Lake Superior; as well as root vegetables, kale, collard greens and potato dishes.
“It would be food that's good eatin',” Trotter says, “But food that's very, very healthful at the same time.”
Wong, a chef and restaurateur in Honolulu, where Obama was born and grew up, would draw his menu from Hawaii's culinary offerings, including seafood salad "pupus" (Hawaiian for appetizers).
The main course would be Maui beef filet with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes mixed with goat cheese. For dessert, he'd fill shells of Hawaiian chocolate with coconut sorbet.
“What I would bring to the White House is a taste of Hawaii,” he says.
Young, who cooked at the Democratic National Convention and is the former personal chef for Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, says he'd try to keep the meal easy to eat to avoid spills on ball gowns.
He'd start with a seafood consomme paired with a pinot grigio, followed by pastry-wrapped organic vegetables laced with black truffles and Bon Champignon Brie served on sweet pepper coulis and paired with crisp sauvignon blanc.
That would be followed by chilled Washington state greens with seared hearts of palm, broiled with honey-glazed apples and topped with a tangy balsamic wild berry dressing and a Camembert crostini.
His main course would be an herb-crusted grass-fed tenderloin on a bed of hay-stacked potatoes, mini Maryland blue crab cakes and carrot-broccoli mousseline paired with a Napa Valley merlot.
He'd end with a dessert he's heard the Obamas' daughters enjoy: peach cobbler and vanilla-almond ice cream.
Andrew ZimmernZimmern, a chef and host of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods," says the mistake most cooks make when preparing for some big event is over-thinking. So he'd try to keep things simple — if unusual — with his inaugural menu.
His main course would be roasted baby goat with tortillas and salsa, and sides of braised greens and roasted vegetables. And he would source his ingredients from around the country, a way of raising awareness about native and sustainable foods.
“It's really lean, it's really healthy and it's the global meat of choice,” he says. “The most important thing you can do for an event like this is be representative of the whole country.”