Hillary Clinton collected dozens of hot sauces; George W. Bush and Bill Clinton ate junk food when their first ladies weren't around; Chelsea Clinton's sudden vegetarianism caused major kitchen complications; the Bush twins received calorie counts for meals; and and both first families loved enchilada dinners. These items -- and other dishing -- were revealed in a recent "Nightline" visit with former White House chef Walter Scheib, recently fired by first lady Laura Bush.
Politics aside, all residents of the White House have to eat. And for 11 years, spanning the Clinton and (part of the) Bush administrations, Scheib fed the White House families, serving at least three meals a day in the residential East Wing.
Scheib, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, had been hired away in 1994 from the elitist Greenbrier resort in West Virginia by first lady Hillary Clinton after undergoing a rigorous interview and tasting ordeal. Scheib says he didn't take the post for the money -- a salary reportedly in the $80,000 to $100,000 range -- but for "the singular honor to serve the first family. "Most chefs don't get to do that in a lifetime."
Scheib was dismissed in 2005 by Mrs. Bush, but he said he doesn't hold a grudge because, for her to make her own legacy in the East Wing, some changes were necessary. Mrs. Bush promoted Scheib's assistant, Cristeta Comerford, to head chef, making her the first-ever female in that position.
This being Washington, D.C., Scheib's departure couldn't just end with his departure ... an unnamed East Wing official dished about him to The Wall Street Journal, saying Scheib was shown the door for displaying "a level of arrogance ... in preparing dishes the Bush family detested -- scallops in particular, which kept appearing on menus despite repeated complaints."
Scheib says whoever's spreading the story about the scallops is full of soup. He insists it had nothing to do with any of the rumored reasons for his termination --
whether too many scallops or too much French food after the French spurned the invasion of Iraq.
No, it was just a decision Mrs. Bush made for her legacy, Scheib says. "Mrs. Bush came and said, 'You have done a very good job and the food has been wonderful, [but] ... I need to make my legacy at the White House with entertaining, and I can't do that with Hillary Clinton's chef.'"
Being an important part of the private domestic White House staff meant Scheib had a more-than-usual inside look at the human nature side of both presidents he served. This included family tensions during President Clinton's Monica Lewinsky affair, and his subsequent impeachment. Scheib was also on duty, serving the Bush family during the September 11 attacks.
But the discreet and diplomatic chef acts as if he didn't even know that Monica Lewinsky first met President Clinton by delivering him a pizza. And all he'll say about the incident when President Bush passed out after choking on a pretzel is that it was "an Amish-made organic flour pretzel." He won't even share the brand.
"It's a private home, so I try to leave some of those details to them," Scheib says. "That's the deal you make."