The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas

The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas

The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas

The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas

Synopsis

James Beard award–winning author Adrian Miller vividly tells the stories of the African Americans who worked in the presidential food service as chefs, personal cooks, butlers, stewards, and servers for every First Family since George and Martha Washington. Miller brings together the names and words of more than 150 black men and women who played remarkable roles in unforgettable events in the nation’s history. Daisy McAfee Bonner, for example, FDR’s cook at his Warm Springs retreat, described the president’s final day on earth in 1945, when he was struck down just as his lunchtime cheese soufflé emerged from the oven. Sorrowfully, but with a cook’s pride, she recalled, “He never ate that soufflé, but it never fell until the minute he died.”

A treasury of information about cooking techniques and equipment, the book includes twenty recipes for which black chefs were celebrated. From Samuel Fraunces’s “onions done in the Brazilian way” for George Washington to Zephyr Wright’s popovers, beloved by LBJ’s family, Miller highlights African Americans’ contributions to our shared American foodways. Surveying the labor of enslaved people during the antebellum period and the gradual opening of employment after Emancipation, Miller highlights how food-related work slowly became professionalized and the important part African Americans played in that process. His chronicle of the daily table in the White House proclaims a fascinating new American story.

Excerpt

Dear President Obama,

I have a few questions for you. Nothing that will affect the world
situation, but I was wondering … I love shrimp and pineapple pizza.
What are your favorite foods? I am not allergic to anything, not any
kind of food or any animals. Are you allergic to anything? There are a
lot more questions I’d like to ask you, but I don’t want to bug you. You
probably have more important earth-shattering questions to deal with
.

When eleven-year-old Malaysia wrote the letter above to President Barack Obama circa 2009, she expressed a desire widely shared by many Americans. We want a personal connection to our presidents and First Families, and we believe that food—what presidents like to eat (or refuse to eat), what they serve to their guests, and what they cook—can be a leading indicator of presidential character. This predicament leads to what I call the “presidential pickle.” We want our presidents to be extraordinary people, but we also want them to be a lot like us. In our system of government, where power ultimately derives from its citizens, a president’s popularity is the bread and butter of maintaining political power.

Savvy presidents carefully use food to ordain and establish in the public consciousness that they are regular people, just like you and me. It’s an enterprise that is fraught with peril, and the stakes are high. Any missteps could make a president seem aristocratic (dining on too much fancy food), out of touch (not knowing the price of common groceries), weird (cottage cheese and ketchup, a combination that President Nixon loved), or just plain boring (having a strong affinity for iceberg lettuce or saltine crackers). Presidents’ food personas often publicly take shape on the campaign trail as they spend their days visiting working-class restaurants, county fairs, and other community events to talk to voters. Though these moments are managed as much as possible by a candidate’s staffers, there remains enough spontaneity to get a feel for those seeking the Oval Office. We scrutinize how they answer questions, how they emote with concerned citizens, and, probably more important, what they eat, their table manners, and how they chew their food. Remarkably, the latter is . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.