Along the walls of the large tent on the South Lawn were arrangements of magnolia branches, locally grown ivy and nandina foliage. The first lady and her staff were in charge of planning the prestigious event, making decisions on the tiniest details. They chose the color of the table cloths, the china set, the flowers, the music, the silverware, the guest list, and the menu.
Guests dined on china from the White House's historic collection and enjoyed a meatless meal of Indian delicacies with some American flair.
The menu, created by guest chef Marcus Samuelsson and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, with the first lady, was respectful of the dietary concerns of the Indian prime minister, who is a vegetarian. It also put an emphasis on healthful eating from the Obama White House.
The first plate was a potato and eggplant salad with White House arugula and an onion seed vinaigrette. Next was red lentil soup with fresh cheese. For a main entrée, guests could choose from roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chick peas and okra, or green curry prawns with caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati. For dessert, pumpkin pie tart or pear tatin with whipped cream and caramel sauce.
The first lady's office said the menu "reflects the best of American cuisine, continues this White House's commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food, and honors the culinary excellence and flavors that are present in Indian cuisine."
After-dinner entertainment included elements from India as well as from the United States.
Kurt Elling, an eight-time Grammy nominee and American jazz vocalist and composer, performed and Chicago-born Jennifer Hudson, winner of the third season of "American Idol," anchored the program. In addition, the guests heard from the National Symphony Orchestra, with Marvin Hamlisch as the conductor, and the United States Marine Band.
A.R. Rahman, an Indian composer, musician and singer who wrote the "Slumdog Millionaire" score, also performed.
The White House said that the formality of the dinner, the size, and the fact that India is the first country to be honored with an official state visit and dinner are an indication of the importance placed by the administration on their relationship with the nation. India, with nearly 1.2 billion people, is the second-largest country next to China.
"This is a very important relationship with a very important country that we have in the world," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "That's why India was chosen to be the first visit. I think that's why the White House wanted to have something as formal as this to discuss throughout this process the issues that we have bilaterally."