WASHINGTON–While the White House press operation is trying to downplay the glamour aspect of the Wednesday State Dinner honoring Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala and limit coverage, guest chef Rick Bayless, the Chicago cooking superstar, is so big the White House cannot muzzle him and force him into the background.
Bayless is going around the White House communications team and twittering from the White House kitchen. This is his latest, filed Tuesday morning: “Thanks 2 the 100s of well wishers! Ready 4 day 2 n rather small White House kitchen. Chef was challenged by some ingred,but last arrive 2day”
Bayless has so much clout, that the White House came to his Frontera Grill in Chicago for the sample dinner a few weeks ago–new Social Secretary Julianna Smoot, deputy Joe Reinstein, from Highland Park, and White House Chef Cristeta Comerford.
The White House does not want any emphasis on the glitz associated with a State Dinner. In these hard economic times, I guess the thinking is that’s not the story and picture the p.r. folks prefer. Last year, when the Obamas entertained the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, the guest chef, Marcus Samuelsson a big name in the cooking world, was neither seen nor heard from and asked not to give interviews about the dinner in advance. He was not allowed to appear at the press preview of the dinner.
Bayless has given interviews about his upcoming stint, has more booked after the dinner and is Twittering. He flew to Washington on Monday from Chicago and when he arrived, he Twittered, “Just arrived in DC. Headed to the White House kitchens. I have to say: I’m a little nervous.”
After he checked out the White House kitchen–which is fairly small– Bayless Twittered, “The White House staff could not be nicer&more professional! Most worried about ingredients, but all will b here 4 big day!”
At many White House meetings, participants are ordered to surrender Blackberries and cell phones before entering the room; the rule has not trickled down to the kitchen.
The White House is keen on limiting reporting opportunities from the State Dinner. First Lady Michelle Obama and Mrs. Zavala–she does not use the title “First Lady” preferring attorney or wife of the president–will be visiting an elementary school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington with students from Central and South America on Wednesday morning and that is the picture of the day the East Wing wants.
In a further crack down on reporting, the White House this time is not planning any advance event to preview the dinner. Last year on the afternoon of the India dinner, Mrs. Obama’s East Wing set up sample table settings; the first lady arranged for a briefing on the history of state dinners for the group of girls she is mentoring. I’m told reporters will be able to see a place setting only just before the dinner.
As with the India dinner, so far the White House is not allowing any advance look at the pavilion being built on the South Lawn for the party. To call it a tent is an understatement. The pavilion built for the India dinner was lit by chandeliers.
The main Calderon dinner is in the East Room; desert and entertainment will be on the South Lawn in order for more people to be invited. The East Room only holds about 200.
Mrs. Obama visited Mrs. Zavala last month in Mexico City. Calderon and Zavala hosted a dinner for Mrs. Obama at Los Pinos, their official residence. Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala visited a museum together and Mrs. Obama went on her own to a Mexico City grammar school.
The New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver, Spring, Md. has programs dealing with healthy eating and physical education that have gotten notice as well as a program with a sister school in Mexico where students track annual migrations of the Monarch Butterfly.