Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Rick Bayless, Obama State Dinner guest chef not muzzled, Twittering from White House kitchen



WASHINGTON--While the White House press operation is trying to downplay the glamour aspect of the Wednesday State Dinner honoring Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala and limit coverage, guest chef Rick Bayless, the Chicago cooking superstar, is so big the White House cannot muzzle him and force him into the background.

Bayless is going around the White House communications team and twittering from the White House kitchen. This is his latest, filed Tuesday morning: "Thanks 2 the 100s of well wishers! Ready 4 day 2 n rather small White House kitchen. Chef was challenged by some ingred,but last arrive 2day"

Bayless has so much clout, that the White House came to his Frontera Grill in Chicago for the sample dinner a few weeks ago--new Social Secretary Julianna Smoot, deputy Joe Reinstein, from Highland Park, and White House Chef Cristeta Comerford.

The White House does not want any emphasis on the glitz associated with a State Dinner. In these hard economic times, I guess the thinking is that's not the story and picture the p.r. folks prefer. Last year, when the Obamas entertained the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, the guest chef, Marcus Samuelsson a big name in the cooking world, was neither seen nor heard from and asked not to give interviews about the dinner in advance. He was not allowed to appear at the press preview of the dinner.

Bayless has given interviews about his upcoming stint, has more booked after the dinner and is Twittering. He flew to Washington on Monday from Chicago and when he arrived, he Twittered, "Just arrived in DC. Headed to the White House kitchens. I have to say: I'm a little nervous."

After he checked out the White House kitchen--which is fairly small-- Bayless Twittered, "The White House staff could not be nicer&more professional! Most worried about ingredients, but all will b here 4 big day!"

At many White House meetings, participants are ordered to surrender Blackberries and cell phones before entering the room; the rule has not trickled down to the kitchen.

The White House is keen on limiting reporting opportunities from the State Dinner. First Lady Michelle Obama and Mrs. Zavala--she does not use the title "First Lady" preferring attorney or wife of the president--will be visiting an elementary school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington with students from Central and South America on Wednesday morning and that is the picture of the day the East Wing wants.

In a further crack down on reporting, the White House this time is not planning any advance event to preview the dinner. Last year on the afternoon of the India dinner, Mrs. Obama's East Wing set up sample table settings; the first lady arranged for a briefing on the history of state dinners for the group of girls she is mentoring. I'm told reporters will be able to see a place setting only just before the dinner.

As with the India dinner, so far the White House is not allowing any advance look at the pavilion being built on the South Lawn for the party. To call it a tent is an understatement. The pavilion built for the India dinner was lit by chandeliers.

The main Calderon dinner is in the East Room; desert and entertainment will be on the South Lawn in order for more people to be invited. The East Room only holds about 200.

Mrs. Obama visited Mrs. Zavala last month in Mexico City. Calderon and Zavala hosted a dinner for Mrs. Obama at Los Pinos, their official residence. Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala visited a museum together and Mrs. Obama went on her own to a Mexico City grammar school.

The New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver, Spring, Md. has programs dealing with healthy eating and physical education that have gotten notice as well as a program with a sister school in Mexico where students track annual migrations of the Monarch Butterfly.


So why are my tax dollars going to host a big buck dinner for a bad neighbor called Mexico? When has Mexico ever supported the USA in anything? Mexico gets over $25 billion each year from legal and Illegal immigrants living in the USA.

I am just SICK of the way this so called President is wasting my money. These people just LOVE to travel and party.

It would be cheaper for them to go to Mexico than to host the dinner in the WH...........I guess for him it is easy come - easy go - he is not using his money to pay for this.....................

What is with the Obama-haters?? Mexico is our third-largest trading partner, for god's sake. It's in our best interest to help the country, not isolate it.

I am in favor of diplomacy rather than war and racist policies against Mexicans. Most of these xenophobes who write here don't want to know about history, culture or what's going on in the rest of the world. I was happy to see that Rick Bayless was chosen to do a dinner as he is one of Chicago's top chefs and he has traveled all over Mexico and has great respect and knowledge of Mexican cuisine. Rather be spending money on meals than on bombs which cost a lot more than food.

You know, First Lady Nancy Reagan received a ton of grief when she replaced the White House china at very great tax payer expense. She's told the story of discovering the Presidential china in chipped and incredibly mismatched condition from years of use, breakages, etc., and said it was hardly the way to welcome invited international dignitaries to the White House.

Every recent (within the past 40 years) administration has held State Dinners like the one the Obamas held for Mexican President Calderon. This is the second year President Obama has been in office. There have been all of 2 State Dinners during the administration to date.

I'm so sick of all the commenters who act like the Obamas invented the State Dinner. They complain that the Obamas are wasting "their oney" as if diplomacy was just invented and protocol was just invented.

Leave a comment

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets


Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Stay in touch

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 18, 2010 9:34 AM.

Susan Sher to deliver Loyola Law School commencement address was the previous entry in this blog.

Al Franken jokes with Elena Kagan: Did he play a lawyer on TV? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.