Obamas' First State Dinner -- 'Bigger than the Biggest Wedding'

"You do the best that you can to make sure you have put together an extensive and comprehensive list that touches every sector of American society -- business, law, art, enter, science, education," she said.

McBride said that there is sometimes a lobbying effort by people who want to end up on the guest list.

"There is definitely an effort on the part of people who want to come to a state dinner, to reach out maybe not directly themselves or they may have people call the social secretary or other people in the White House on their behalf to be considered for the state dinner," she said.

Planning the State Dinner Menu

"A state dinner or official dinner is a lot more like a Broadway play than it is an actual dinner," veteran White House chef Scheib said. "There are so many components and so much rehearsal and so much that goes into it. Literally hundreds and maybe a thousand people involved if you look at all the components of the house."

DO: Represent the taste and style of the first lady.

"It's not about you as the chef, it's about representing and letting the first lady's style and personal tastes come through loud and clear," Scheib said.

McBride said that the menu typically showcases American, but there is always a nod to the "flair or flavor" of the visiting country.

DO: Make sure that the food component of the dinner, while "excellent, delicious and fun," never becomes the issue.

"If it is, then typically that means something went badly," Scheib said. "There can be no mistakes, it's not like a restaurant where they cut 10 percent off your bill and give you free dessert."

DON'T: Try something new for the first time that night. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, Scheib said, and don't get cute.

Menu planning usually begins about a month before the dinner, when the White House social secretary begins the preliminary work on the event, he said.

An official from the State Department's office of protocol will prepare a dossier on the guest of honor, outlining personal tastes, dietary concerns, and anything else that a chef and his team needs to know to begin planning a menu.

A number of menus are proposed and sometimes there are tastings done to determine what works and what does not and the final say goes to the first lady.

DO: Know the dietary concerns and tastes of the guest of honor.

Scheib said that in a dinner for 400 guests, there may be 50-60 alternative dinners prepared to accommodate guests' tastes and preferences.

"First ladies look at it not as a hotel or restaurant, but as a home and you want to be sure your guests get served as they would in your own home," he said.

McBride said the State Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol will play a key role in informing the White House staff of dietary guidelines, food or flower allergies and even colors that may not be appropriate.

Scheib brought up the worst-case scenario -- if a guest were to get sick from any of the food at the dinner.

"This is the end of the world," he said. "This is the fear."

Scheib said that for two weeks before a state dinner, his wife would often wake him up from his sleep to tell him that he had been tossing and turning and talking in his sleep as he thought of things he still had to do for the event.

Schieb's most important advice to the White House team involved in the dinner: "Remember: You're not cooking for you -- you are cooking for the first lady, for the country."

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