Recipe for Success: Cooking for the President

It's not a cabinet position. It doesn't require Senate confirmation. But much like President-elect Obama's inner circle, the person selected as the next White House chef will face a daunting task: Ensuring the security and well-being of the commander in chief's stomach.

In an age of celebrity chefs, the president-elect's pick for White House chef -- not yet announced -- is now more closely watched than ever before. Obama can opt to stick with White House chef Cristeta Comerford, the first woman to hold the position, or he can opt to replace her.

"I don't see any reason why the Obamas would not like her," Roland Mesnier, White House pastry chef from 1979 to 2004, told Tuesday. "Most of the time, if the chef is able to please, he will stay on -- I'm the living proof of it."

Others have speculated that Obama will bring on a fellow Chicagoan, as he has done with picks like chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and White House senior adviser David Axelrod. High-profile chefs in the city include Rick Bayless of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, Oprah Winfrey's personal chef Art Smith of Table 52, and Charlie Trotter at his namesake restaurant.

That is, if those in his hometown will even allow it.

"I won't let him take my chef," Ken Raskin, owner of Manny's Deli, joked Tuesday to "Can't have him, but I'll be happy to deliver food whenever he wants it."

Others said the position of White House chef presents tremendous opportunity, perhaps even in promoting local ingredients, the sustainable food movement and healthy cooking.

"They could have a great herb garden around the White House, or they could have their own chickens or their own eggs," said Daniel Humm, executive chef at New York's Eleven Madison Park. "That would be really cool to see. It also would be a great thing to see for the kids, as well."

Whoever Obama selects for the job, chefs and Chicago restaurant owners alike have some tips for feeding the first family:

Rule No. 1: You are not the celebrity.

First and foremost, it's not about you, former White House chefs advise. In Mesnier's opinion, the job is for "somebody who loves to cook, not somebody who loves to clown."

"The celebrity at the White House is not the cook, it's the president and the first lady and the first family," said Walter Scheib, who served as executive chef for 11 years, for both the Clintons and the Bushes.

Mesnier said, "Don't try to be seen. If they want to see you, they know where to find you."

For that reason, both Mesnier and Scheib think a celebrity chef or reality show winner would be the wrong pick for the job.

Rule No. 2: Get in good with Michelle Obama.

During his job interview with Rosalynn Carter in 1979, Mesnier recalled the first lady's last question to the nervous job applicant: What will you do for us?

"Oh, madam, I will do a lot of low calories and a lot of fresh fruit with dessert," Mesnier recalled answering. Today, he's convinced his final answer is what landed him the job.

"First and foremost, that person should get to know Mrs. Obama inside and out and should have her complete faith and backing," Scheib said.

Indeed, Scheib, who now runs his own catering company, The American Chef, plucks that valuable piece of advice from his own childhood. "If momma's happy, then everybody's happy," he said.

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