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The State Dinner Was Quintessentially American

Local American food played an important role in last night's state dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

State Dinner

Photo: Luigi Crespo (flickr)

Do you think your dinner guests are picky? See what the First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House chefs prepared for the visiting Chinese president.

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The History of The State Dinner

Since the early 19th century the President has honored visiting foreign heads of state by hosting a grand dinner in their honor. Through two world wars, party shifts, and new eras of global politics, the state dinner has been an opportunity for the President and a foreign head of state to celebrate diplomacy and hospitality. Sharing a meal can be seen as a gesture of friendship and a chance to peacefully unite over the serious talks of the visit.

The glamor of the state dinner is prepared by the First Lady and her staff, and includes an invitation-only guest list, formal dress, and musical entertainment.

The Importance Of Tradition

The state dinner is also an chance for the White House to exhibit its power and influence.

Because America and China are so economically intertwined, but the countries differ significantly on government styles and views on human rights, the planning for this state dinner was a delicate affair. Past visits from Chinese leaders have turned out disastrously for former administrations because of the degree to which the Chinese head of state value tradition.

“The Chinese are extremely protocol conscious and have an intimate knowledge of what has been done in the past and will use it to negotiate the kind of treatment they want,” Clinton-era advisor on China, Kenneth G. Lieberthal told the New York Times. “They will readily cite you past precedent; often their records were better than ones I could access.”

An All-American Menu

So how do President and First Lady Obama negotiate such a sensitive playing field and promote their national agenda? Through food, of course.

Tonight’s state dinner was themed “Quintessentially American.” Jazz music featured Chris Botti, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Herbie Hancock, Lang Lang, and Dianne Reeves, the First Lady wore a red Alexander McQueen dress, and the decor exhibited red, blue, and brown fabrics, feathers, and flowers.

The menu highlighted the First Lady’s campaign for healthier, local eating, and items harvested from the White House garden over the year such as herbs, honey, and produce were used in the meal. Instead of bringing in new chefs, the First Lady choose to have White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses as well as the White House kitchen staff create the meal.

From Maine Lobster to Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream, the state dinner lived up to its Quintessentially American title.

The Menu:

  • D’Anjou Pear Salad with Farmstead Goat Cheese, Fennel, Black Walnuts, and White Balsamic
  • Poached Maine Lobster, Orange Glaze Carrots, and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
  • Dumol Chardonnay “Russian River” 2008
  • Dry Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions, Double Stuffed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach
  • Quilceda Creek Cabernet “Columbia Valley” 2005
  • Lemon Sorbet
  • Old Fashioned Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Poet’s Leap Riesling “Botrytis” 2008

Read More:

  • ‘Quintessentially American’ meal to be served at state dinner (Los Angeles Times)
  • Tonight’s “Quintessentially American” State Dinner: the Menu, the Decor, and the Music (ABC News)
  • Obama, Hu Discuss Economy, Human Rights Issues (NPR)
  • State Dinner with President Hu of China: Video (The White House)
  • History of the White House State Dinner (The White House)
Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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