Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Filipina Cristeta Comerford Might Retain Presidential Chef Post

There's a good chance Pinoy-flavored food will stay in the Obama White House menu.

Though change is coming in the White House this January, there's one area where Obama's new administration isn't likely to change, reports say.

Walter Scheib, White House executive chef for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says in an AP interview that "there's a 90 percent chance the new administration will stick with his successor, Cristeta Comerford."

Though the job is high-profile, the work of a White House executive chef isn't fit for someone wanting a celebrity status. Being sensitive and understanding is just as important as culinary skills, given that the chef is among the few people who interact with the first family in private, former White House chefs say.

Comerford, the first woman and first minority to serve as executive chef in the White House, gets high praise in those areas.

Below is an article I wrote about Comerford back in 2005.

First Lady Head Chef In The White House is Filipina
By Yong B. Chavez

When Cristeta Comerford comes back to work from her vacation by the month’s end, she will have a full plate in front of her as she assumes her new responsibilities as the White House executive chef at that time.

Mrs. Laura Bush announced Sunday that Comerford, whom the First Lady calls by her nickname “Cris”, has been given the executive kitchen’s top post.
A Food Technology graduate of the University of the Philippines, the 42-year-old wife and mother is the first woman to get the job.

"I am delighted that Cris Comerford has accepted the position of White House executive chef," Mrs. Bush said in her press statement. "Her passion for cooking can be tasted in every bite of her delicious creations."

Comerford will be in charge of designing and executing menus for state dinners, social events, holiday functions, receptions and official luncheons hosted by President and Mrs. Bush.

The first lady top chef of the White House is trained in French classical techniques and specializes in ethnic and American cuisine. She has helped develop menus for previous special White House events including a state dinner in honor President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Susan Whitson, the First Lady’s press secretary, said that Mrs. Bush was very happy with Comerford’s work in her capacity as the White House assistant chef for the past 10 years.
“She is very pleased with Cris,” Whitson said.

It took six months for the position to be filled because the First Lady wanted to make sure that the person who would replace former executive chef Walter Scheib III would be the best that they could get, Whitson added.

The search for the presidential chief chef was headed by White House social secretary Lea Berman and head usher Gary Walters.

Walters has been quoted in reports as saying that the White House executive chef is paid in the general range of $80,000 and $100,000 a year. Although it is a sizable amount, famous chefs in America get so much more than that, but the high-profile job still attracted a lot of applicants hungry for the chance to rule the president's kitchen.

“They went through hundreds of applicants, and after thoughtful consideration, they went with Cris,” Whitson said. The fact that she is a woman is a bonus, but in the end, she was chosen because she was “the best qualified”, Whitson said.

The new White House top chef, a naturalized U.S.citizen who was born in the Philippines, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family.

About the photo:Chef Cristeta "Cris" Comerford prepares a meal inside the White House kitchen in this July 17, 2002 photo. White House Photo by Tina Hager

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