When it comes to diplomacy, food matters. That’s the message Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to send by championing the State Department’s global chef program.
Launched Friday in a reception with expertly prepared American cuisine, The Diplomatic Culinary Program showcases 80 of America’s top chefs who will prepare meals for foreign leaders visiting the United States, as well as travel abroad conducting cooking demonstrations and hosting other global culinary experts.
“Food isn’t traditionally thought of as a diplomatic tool. But I think it’s the oldest diplomatic tool,” said Clinton in a video played at the launch. “Sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can. Certainly some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with my counterparts all over the world have taken place over breakfasts, lunches and dinners.”
Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall who heads the State Department’s Office of the Chief Protocol, which is in charge of the initiative, hopes that American chefs chosen will have the same influence world-wide “By showcasing the best of American cuisine and creativity, we can show our guests a bit about ourselves,” says Marshall. “Likewise, by incorporating elements of our visitor’s culture, we can demonstrate respect and a desire to connect and engage.”
Some of the chefs who are part of the program, co-sponsored by the State Department and the James Beard Foundation, have already achieved commercial and celebrity success, but consider their new role as a global food ambassador to be a highlight of their career. Jeffery Adam “Duff” Goldman, the pastry chef who hosts the popular “Ace of Cakes” on the Food Network, says he’s excited about the possibilities of being able to relate art and food. This fall he will visit Bogota, Colombia, doing a cake decorating instruction course for an expected 6,000 people.
“Culinary diplomats make so much sense because we’re fun,” says Goldman. “Language and food are universal. We don’t have to speak the same language to know what spicy is.”
Mike Isabella, runner -upon last year’s “Top Chef,” is currently on a trip to Turkey and Greece where he combined hi s professional work, researching food and flavors for upcoming projects, with some culinary diplomacy for the program.
“While in Greece I met with several local chefs. They were wonderful hosts” Isabella told ABC News, via email from Istanbul. “We dined at their restaurants, checked out their kitchens, did market tours and really just shared our ideas about food.”
Isabella says he sees the potential in his new role as a food diplomat.
“For me it’s been an honor to meet, travel, eat, learn and teach abroad while representing the U.S.,” he said. “I hope people I meet take my love and passion for the culinary world.”
But the program isn’t all about fun. Global food security has also been one of Clinton’s priorities. These chefs are also going to be addressing issues of malnutrition and safe cooking practices.
Jose Andres, the celebrity chef who owns successful restaurants in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, also serves as the Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. It’s a program sponsored by the State Department and the United Nations Foundation as well as other organizations to develop cleaner portable stoves used in much of the developing world that traditionally rely on charcoal and fire wood, which is harmful to the environment and to the health of the family.
“Right now we’re dealing with hunger at levels that are unconscionable both inside this country and around the world, we’re dealing with obesity..the way we grow our food, how we should support our food…All these issues come to our plates every day ,” said Sam Kass who is the White House assistant chef, but also a senior policy adviser for the Healthy Foods Initiative. ”Chefs are now having to play an ever increasing role in our society.”