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Obamas to keep seasoned White House chef

by Gina Pace /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY contributor

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While many foodies speculated a high-profile chef would be given the job, President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have decided to keep current White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford in the kitchen, a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama confirmed Friday.

"Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family," Michelle Obama said in a statement. "Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families. I look forward to working with her in the years to come."

Comerford, who was named to the post in 2005, is the first woman to hold the position. She had served as an assistant chef in the White House kitchens for 10 years, and is trained in French classical techniques but specializes in ethnic and American food. Originally from the Philippines, Comerford has also worked in Austria.

Walter Scheib, who served as White House executive chef under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said that the Obamas have made "a great decision."

"It's not about representing an agricultural or cultural agenda," he said. "It's about making Mrs. Obama happy in her home."

Several gourmands hoped the Obamas would fill the role with a chef that emphasized local and organic food. Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, along with chef Alice Waters and New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer, sent a letter to Obama urging him to pick a chef that would send a message to the nation that "food choices matter."

But, as far as that agenda goes — Scheib said that White House chefs have long used local and organic produce, even though the current first family has chosen not to publicize it.

"It's very much about seasonal produce," he said. "A lot of the shopping is done at farm stands and co-ops in the environs."

Scheib called the White House chef position the "best-known anonymous chef in the country." To do well at the job, he said it’s essential to know the first family well and anticipate their needs, as well remain discreet.

"This will be her third first family," Scheib said of Comerford, who he worked with in the White House for seven years. "I've got 35 years in the business, and she's one of the best I've seen at actual cooking."           

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