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."
Both presidents enjoyed entertaining; although after September 11, all formal social activities were curbed for a while, with Scheib's food preparation duties focused entirely on the Bush family. Scheib's official duties included working with both first ladies, planning menus for White House State Dinners for foreign dignitaries and guests, one of the biggest social undertakings of a White House.
Scheib served up a few details about the first families, though not anything too incendiary. For instance, who knew that now-Sen. Hillary Clinton had a collection of hot sauces from around the country? According to Scheib, Mrs. Clinton had 150 different bottles in her pantry closet.
And although both administrations didn't share the same politics, they did share a love for enchiladas, salads, sorbets and fresh fruit. But, Scheib is quick to point out, when the first wives were away, both presidents loved their junk food.
Being in charge of the White House kitchen also means adjusting to the dietary needs of all members of the first family. When Chelsea Clinton decided to become a vegetarian, the kitchen staff had to learn how to accommodate her, and when she was preparing for college, Scheib treated the first saughter and her friends to precollege cooking classes.
President Bush -- famous for assigning nicknames to people around him -- referred to Scheib as, what else, but "Cookie," and often entered the kitchen asking, "Cookie, what's for lunch?" Scheib always made sure to have Mr. Bush's presidential preferences in stock, which included: peanut butter and honey sandwiches (creamy not crunchy), BLTs and hamburgers.
Although Walter Scheib tries to make it sound as if the first family is like any other, living in the White House offers some obvious perks; for instance, their favorite foods are always in stock in their private kitchen. Since Chelsea Clinton loved Dove ice cream bars, for eight years the White House kitchen was fully stocked with them -- in all flavors.
Scheib still lives in the Washington, D.C., area, busy working on a book about his experiences as first chef, consulting, and doing private catering deals (he quoted us around $70,000 for 250 people). When asked if he would return to his old post in 2008 if his old boss happens to make her way back into the White House, he jokingly said, "Well, that is two different questions -- there is a lot more chance of her coming back to the White House then me coming back to my old job."
If you're in the mood to serve a meal fit for a president, try Walter Scheib's following recipe for enchiladas, a favorite dish of both first families he served. Democratic readers take note: The Clintons usually preferred braised chicken added to the cheese mix.
Click to the next page, and enjoy.
CHEESE and ONION ENCHILADAS
(4 portions -- 8 enchiladas)
For the filling and tortillas:
8 ounces grated jalapeño jack cheese
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese
2 ounces Queso Fresco cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sweet onion, large diced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon cumin ground
hot sauce to taste
8 fresh or store-bought corn tortillas
- In a sauté pan over medium heat, sauté diced onions in oil until tender and slightly colored -- 4-6 minutes.
- Season with coriander, cumin, hot sauce and s&p.
- Let onion mix cool to room temperature, and hold to fill enchiladas.
- Combine all the cheese except 2 ounces each of the jack and cheddar with the onion mixture, fold together well.
- Slightly warm the tortillas in a warm sauté pan to make them flexible, and put about 1/3 cup of the cheese mix on each tortilla and roll them up.
- Place the rolled tortillas in a lightly oiled casserole dish in a single layer.
- Cover and refrigerate until baking time.
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon fine diced jalapeños
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ tablespoon chipotle en adobo
1 cup roasted tomatoes chopped
1½ cups stock or water
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon cinnamon
- In a 2 quart sauce pot over medium heat, cook onions in oil until tender, 3-5 minutes.
- Add diced jalapeños and garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
- Add tomatoes, stock and all seasonings; let simmer 15 minutes.
- Puree and strain the sauce and hold for service.
To assemble the dish:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Ladle sauce over the enchiladas in the casserole dish, top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake covered for 15-20 minutes, until hot throughout and cheese is well-melted.
- Serve hot.