State Department introduces 'food diplomacy' program
September 8th, 2012
03:30 PM ET
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Something was amiss in the White House kitchen.

The staff was already keenly aware that the newest residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (a 40-something couple with a teenaged daughter) presented a significant cultural and demographic shift from the previous regime and they wanted things to go smoothly. A frantic call was made to the first lady's office, and her assistant, Capricia Penavic Marshall, picked up the phone. "The first lady is in the kitchen, and she wants...a pan!"

"Am I missing something?" asked Marshall. Further explanation revealed that first daughter Chelsea Clinton wasn't feeling especially well that day, and her mother wanted to make her some eggs. This, in the experience of the staff, had not happened before. They needed guidance.

"Welcome to a new day," said Marshall. "Get her the pan."

This past Friday night, some two decades after that exchange, Marshall stood at a podium in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State, flanked by grinning men - and two women - in navy blue chef coats emblazoned with American flags and the department's official seal. Now Chief of Protocol of the United States, she unveiled the department's new Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, which will "elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts."

In Marshall's words, "Food matters."

state department

The new partnership with the James Beard Foundation, a non-profit culinary arts organization named for the so-called "Dean of American Cookery," establishes an American Chef Corps comprised of around 80 food professionals who may be deployed to travel abroad as "chef ambassadors," cook for visiting dignitaries, speak to groups, write articles, blog, tweet or find other ways to extol the virtues of American cooking and food products. Top Chef contestant and Graffiato chef Mike Isabella is currently visiting embassies and restaurants in Greece and Turkey in the program's inaugural mission.

A smaller group, including Jose Andres, Rick Bayless, Duff Goldman, past and present White House chefs Cristeta Comerford, Sam Kass, Roland Mesnier, William Yosses and Walter Scheib, as well as other chefs who have participated directly in diplomatic meals and special programs, were introduced as the inaugural Class of State Chefs. As James Beard Foundation Susan Ungaro said, Hillary Clinton had observed throughout her tenures as first lady and Secretary of State, "Better and more effective diplomacy can happen around a dining table than at a conference table."

Secretary Clinton, who appeared via a pre-taped video message, endorsed the campaign and spoke of the personal, one-on-one connections she has seen forged over the course of meals. Her mission: advance diplomacy through food, as we have through the performing arts.

Last February, Marshall had called upon Chef Ming Tsai to craft a luncheon for the visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, reasoning that the chef's signature "East-West" cooking style would set a welcoming tone for the potentially tense conversations between President Obama and the expected next leader. Not only was Xi impressed by Tsai's soy-marinated Alaskan butterfish and shiitake-leek spring rolls - he was honored that the chef had taken the time to fly in and prepare it for him, and that a foreign government would show that level of cultural awareness and respect.

The State Department took note, forging further with their plans for the partnership. Future visiting dignitaries can expect similar attention to nuance and nutrition. As White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass told the crowd (which was busily feasting on American cheeses, cured meats, beer, wine and small bites prepared by members of the Chef Corps), "In 20 years, this will be diplomacy."

pizza box

More on food and the White House

Previously - First Lady hosts first-ever “Kid's State Dinner” and Inside the White House garden: a conversation with White House chef Sam Kass

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. fairfoodfieldnotes

    Reblogged this on fair food field notes and commented:
    I'm writing a final paper on the diplomacy of food right now... how cool is this? The establishment of a Diplomatic Culinary Partnership and Chef Corps to "extol the virtues of American cooking and food products"- fascinating!

    April 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  2. Mary Askew

    From time out of mind, sharing food and drink has smoothed meetings between strangers. It's hard to beat swords into plough-shares if everyone is hungry and cranky. I think this program is a terrific idea.

    And, by the way, Bumpkin, if you are a visiting foreign head of state, the protocol people will work very hard to make sure whatever is served at official functions doesn't irritate your allergies or offend your religious scruples.

    September 11, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  3. sayer


    September 9, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  4. Tom

    Need any more proof of the idiocy of the current government?

    September 9, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  5. Kev

    I suppose our tax dollars are paying for this too? Ridiculous.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  6. Elisabeth Ryan

    During the 1950's, President Eisenhower's State Department sent musicians, primarily pop and jazz, to serve throughout the world as music "ambassadors" – as an antidote to the Cold War. And the Arts in Embassies program, also administered by the State Department, is more than 40 years old and celebrated at the White House by Mrs. Bush. Our different arts and talents are indeed an ideal way to bring people of diverse backgrounds together.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  7. Fsh

    Well, I sure am glad I read *this*. It clearly is a much more important topic worthy of news than, you know, ANYTHING else. Hell, I'd gladly replace this entire blog with updates on the Mars rovers.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • jordan

      people like. with these comments. on every single page. PISS ME OFF. MAKE ME WANNA VOMMIT IN YOUR PANTS.

      YOU FUDGING SUCK. do you ever say anything else under any topic thats not directly bashing democrats or republicans in stuck a ridiculous political gridlock?

      you and people like you who crave a wrestling / high school atmosphere to our society and political system are the cause of America's demise.... POS

      September 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. Bubba Gump

    Turkey is on the brink of a civil insurrection, and on the border with a country (Syria) in open civil war, sending thousands and thousands of refugees into emergency camps on Turkish soil, that the Turks would rather never have had to establish. Greece is in the middle of a financial meltdown, with unemployment nearing 25%, depending on whose numbers you believe for the "real" Greek "economy," if there still is such a thing.

    And America sends a "chef"???? Because HIllary says good eats are good diplomacy????

    American (upthread), you not only took the words out of my mouth, but you posted the only words that really are appropriate, without dropping into the gutter.

    Who are we kidding, except ourselves?

    September 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  9. Jimmy Cracks Capricorns

    Everybody likes well prepared food! – The problem is, the US is chasing off the tourists with the TSA shakedown at our airports. So it makes sense to send American chefs to embassies around the world to share our culinary skills and ideals with foreign dignitaries because, you know, they're so poor they can;t afford a good meal! I'm not knocking this, think it's great and American food is really the best in the world, but the best way to share it with the world is to invite them to your country and make the front door more welcoming!!!!!!!

    September 8, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • beacon the clown

      It's all about the bed bugs. USA didn't have bed bugs until tourists in the early 2000's started bringing their bed pets with them. Just like snake heads and asian carp, Pandora's Box is buggy. Crabs!

      September 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  10. PJ

    Good food is important.. it doesn't matter if you are poor or rich.. it brings people together - families, friends, soldiers, etc.

    September 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Zuhair Al-Masri


      September 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • bumpkin

      People REALLY need to learn to communicate effectively AND comfortably without the appearance of food and stuffing faces. As a people, Americans, (of which I am one) seem do EVERYTHING around food! Gotta serve it for EVERYTHING. With the upcoming and current food shortages, it behooves us to learn to interact without food always present. Additionally, there are more and more people like me- allergic to most everything yummy, and we tend to run like crazy from the perpetual food gatherings. Lets, as a nation, learn to eat small amounts of home-cooked meals, not chef-prepared expensive dinners. To me, this nonsense of this administration's using my tax dollars to cook haute cuisine for foreign visitors, while telling me we don't have the money as a nation to pay our debts to other nations so they must raise my taxes, is flat stupid. Should the State Governments follow this nonsense of insanely-costly meals for foreign visitors, I will be downright pissed that the dignitaries get chef-prepared meals but I cant get a policeman or fireman when I need one because the State just cant afford to keep people on the public service forces anymore. In a word, this idea is ill-timed and stupid!

      September 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
      • Samantha

        You know I think your name fits you quite well. Odd though considering if you think about it country people make there living off the land supporting chefs that make these "unnecessary" dishes. Also odd that from my bringing up, because you could also in all rights call me a bumpkin, I understand that not much brings a family together more than a good meal. Dont you realize how big of a deal food is? Do you also not realize that the same chefs that create those meals you are so afraid of are also trying new cooking methods and products to make dishes that you can enjoy? You make it seem like all chefs do is cater to wealthy snobs. When in reality all chef strive for is to make a plate that will bring joy to people. Its called the HOSPITALITY industry. Of course we are gunna use food to our advantage as people have for thousands of years do you think that the Queen serves meatloaf to her foreign dignitary's? Dont blame chefs for your food issues.

        September 10, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  11. American

    You have got to be kidding me!

    September 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  12. Rich

    Where are all the Democrat/Obama/government bashers decrying the "waste" of taxpayer dollars? I'm sure they'll be around soon.

    September 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Well, I just posted this, so give it a few minutes.

      September 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
      • beacon the clown

        Mitt Romney is already hosting a whole pork BBQ in Riyadh. And for desert serving a cake that looks like the Koran.

        September 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
        • jordan


          September 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
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