Imagine you're hosting a dinner party for an astounding 400 people. Now, imagine they all have vastly different tastes, dietary restrictions and cultural traditions. Preparing a meal that will wow them all is the daunting task facing White House Chef Cris Comerford.
"When we got the word from the State Department that we were hosting 50 different nations, we did quite intensive research about what the African nations would like in terms of their flavors," Comerford told ABC News, "because you still want to please your customers even though we're hosting and this is the United States and we want to do traditional American foods, we also want to incorporate nuances of different flavors and spices from Africa."
The honored guests at tonight's White House gala for African leaders will be treated to a scrumptious meal three months in the making.
Comerford set out to find "different things that we know would give that menu a little twist," and decided on American dishes seasoned with African flavors like Madagascar vanilla and saffron.
The mouthwatering menu includes:
"We're just adding hints, but not overpowering it," Comerford said of her African touches. "We want to give them that feel that this is what American cooking is all about."
That quintessential American feel will be created with the help of vegetables picked from the White House kitchen garden, including 30 pounds of green beans.
Now Comerford and her team of dozens of chefs are busy chopping, marinating and braising as they head into the final stretch.
"With the 400 guests, it does not take a day to prepare. Imagine at home you're preparing for 20 people, it would probably take you a whole week to get it done," she pointed out.
"Three days before the event, we start doing little things that will hold better, things that we can freeze, like some wonderful corn bread that we are incorporating into the menu. And then on the day before the event and the day of, the vegetables and the meat will be seared," she explains. "We want to hold off as much as we can toward the day of the event itself… everything will be cooked on the day of the dinner."