No matter what your opinions or thoughts are about any current or former president of the United States, when you are offered an opportunity to cook for one, it is a thrilling moment. The memory of President William Jefferson Clinton’s trip to the Chicago area on August 15, 2000 might be just a memory, but the day was an exhilarating time. The details of the menu are a state secret, because honestly, I do not recall the details. I just remember that it was a vegetarian menu and that President Clinton liked Starbucks “Light Note.”
At the time, I worked for Creative Dining Services, Inc., a third-party contract management company based in Zeeland, Michigan. The president was coming to town to speak at a leadership conference and the process of creating the menus for his visit started months before. In fact, his visit was not public knowledge at the time and his name was nowhere to be found in any of the marketing materials sent out for the conference. My job was to create several menus and send them to the White House for approval. Once approved, it was time to build the culinary team that would be assisting me, all of whom had to be vetted by the Secret Service. Being from the United Kingdom, the approval process took me a little longer, but eventually it was all systems go. Working with local vendors, my team and I worked on the cooking and designing of the plating process for about a month before his arrival. The day before his arrival, a Secret Service team arrived to inspect and search through the conference building, and we were told that once we arrived the next day, we would not be permitted to leave the building and re-enter until the president and his party left.
As I stated before, one of the requests of the presidential party was Starbucks Light Note coffee. For me, that meant that I had to go to a local Starbucks the day before his arrival with one of the Secret Service agents by my side. This trip was a little bit unusual. I needed 20 pounds of ground Light Note, but I think the unusual part was having a gentleman in a dark suit and dark glasses stand beside me to make sure I didn’t mention that POTUS was arriving for an event. Once back at the kitchen, the task of preparing the food began in earnest.
The day of President Clinton’s arrival began early, and honestly, I did not get much sleep. I think for most chefs who are about to cook for a celebrity for the first time, sleep is hard to come by. It’s probably not because of the person you are cooking for, but because you go over the menu in your mind repeatedly. I know I did.
Once my staff and I arrived in the kitchen, it was time to go over the menu again — with the Secret Service lingering nearby. Everyone had their tasks to accomplish just like in any other kitchen, but our guests today weren’t like any other guests. My staff and I pulled together the items on the menu just like we planned for weeks and months prior. Everything went like clockwork, from the appetizers through to the desserts. After the president addressed the conferees, he was whisked away to Air Force One. Word was sent back to us later in the afternoon that the president and his staff thoroughly enjoyed the food, and appreciated the hard work we all had put in to make his visit a success.
While I did not get to meet the president that day, the following Christmas I received in the mail a signed photo from the White House — wishing my family and I a Merry Christmas.
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