White House Chef by Walter Scheib is one of those books that you stay up until 3:00AM finishing. You don't want it in the house if you need to catch up on your sleep. Scheib was the White House Executive Chef under the Clintons and for George Bush's first term. The book is not so much a recipe book or food memoir as much as it is a first-hand glimpse inside the White House (so interesting!) and a commentary on both presidents (and their families) from a culinary perspective. In a word, it's fascinating.
The book can be summed up by the phrase "you are what you eat." Scheib writes that the Clintons were adventurous eaters who tried everything. Hillary Clinton wanted the White House kitchen to be known for "restaurant-caliber" fine food that reflected the best of American cuisine. This was kind of a novel idea in the early 90's. Prior White House chefs had been steeped in the French tradition, which made no sense to the Clintons.
Clinton menus showcased the best of what America had to offer from locally-grown greens to Artic Char from Alaska to the best wines from California. Menus also featured decidedly American ingredients like bison and rattlesnake.
Scheib writes about his time with the Clintons with excitement and joy. I actually have a new-found respect for Hillary Clinton. Her ideas about food resonate with me and I finally feel like I have a way to connect to her.
His experience with the Bushes, however, was much different. The Bushes enjoyed spicy Tex-Mex fare and wanted it served often. Laura Bush wanted her menus to reflect "identifiable" and "unpretentious" ingredients. (No blue cheese, for example.) She loved the same dishes (beets, pea soup) and would have them served for every function if she could have.
George Bush has a very limited palate. He eats nothing green and no "wet" fish, "wet" meaning steamed or sauteed. He also eats just four sandwiches for lunch: peanut butter and honey, BLT's, grilled cheese (with a side of French's yellow mustard), and burgers. Per his request, all sandwiches were to be served with a side of Lay's potato chips and a pickle spear.
The Bushes had no "vision" about what kind of food the White House should reflect. They didn't appreciate fine food or eating and that's what informed their menus. Scheib was often presented with recipes torn out of magazines and he was expected to make the food look exactly like the picture.
Scheib writes that during his time serving the Bush's he was relegated to serving "country club" or "institutional" food. His talents were underused and ultimately he became unhappy.
I'll leave you there to find out what happens next. I highly recommend this book. It's a page-turner for sure.