Recipe for Success: Cooking for the President

Given Michelle Obama's house rules, Mesnier said he also predicts the Obamas' tendencies could resemble the Carters', where family members were instructed to go change if they showed up for dinner in flip flops and jeans or go without food if they showed up late.

"That's the way she comes across," Mesnier said of the incoming first lady.

"I'm thinking, overall, that she's going to implement good food, healthy food, for the family and she's going to be watching over the president big time."

Rule No. 3: Eating styles, like governing styles, differ. It's not your job to change them.


If Obama's eating habits on the campaign trail are any indication, the next White House chef could have a calorie-conscious eater on his or her hands.

But whether Obama has a sweet tooth, like President Ronald Reagan and President Clinton, adventurous taste buds, like President Bush Sr., or a penchant for organic ingredients, like Laura Bush, Mesnier said it's the job of the chef to serve up whatever they like, however they like it.

"If the president said, 'I like my steak totally black on the outside,' then you'd better make it this way," Mesnier said. "Don't say, 'Oh, I have to teach the president how to eat.'"

First Family Eating Habits

Going with the flow also applies to any other quirky habits the first family might have at meal time.

Take President Bush: "He's the fastest eater I've ever met," Mesnier said. "I think five minutes at the table is a banquet for him."

Or President Clinton: "He's a wonderful man but he's not very disciplined when it comes to meal time," Mesnier said. "But he's the president, so it's his choice."

In other words, keep your mouth closed and your eyes open. Learn what's going on in the house and take stock of how the family approaches both food and entertaining. And take notes.

"I'm a copious note-taker and file-keeper," Scheib said.

Rule No. 4: Be ready to shift gears and mix things up.


Versatility and flexibility are also key to success. Those traits come in handy when whipping up a quick sandwich, preparing an intricate state dinner, accommodating allergies or dietary requirements, or simply anticipating what a family might need at the end of a long day.

In the Clinton family alone, the president was allergic to dairy products, chocolate and flour -- a major challenge for a pastry chef serving a man who loved dessert, Mesnier recalled.

Chelsea Clinton, too, had become a vegan by the time she departed for college, requiring Scheib to cook up a new repertoire.

Scheib added that it was also necessary to take the temperature of the White House before serving a meal, a tactic which prompted him to turn to comfort food for the Bushes immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks.

"Literally, the day after 9/11, the food changed dramatically," Scheib said.

Diversity of Choices

Encouraging a diversity of choices is also key when chefs from restaurants preparing to serve the first family call for tips. A piece of advice from Scheib: Only tell them what the first family doesn't like. If you specify what they do, the Obamas could end up eating the same old chili dish everywhere they go.

Rule No. 5: Say goodbye to holidays with your own family.


Devotion to the first family will also mean giving up family celebrations of your own.

"All my years in the White House, my wife can tell you, we didn't celebrate anything because I always had to go to work, Mesnier said.

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