Cooks for the powerful: A summit full of state secrets

By Dominik Wurnig, dpa

WASHINGTON–The stomach is also a path to power: the chefs of world leaders must be able to save a state banquet at the last minute, and they need to keep their employers’ favorite meals top secret. That was the conclusion when the chefs of the world’s bosses held their own summit in Washington. Ulrich Kerz, for example, said he had one clear purpose: to pamper German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s palate. As head chef, he makes meals for her every day, and it goes without saying that she will not take just anything. Kerz says that she particularly likes fish from the Baltic, vegetables in season and cheese for dessert. It needs to be organic, a local product and of course cooked traditionally. To that extent at least, Merkel is quite trendy. Merkel is currently on holiday, so Kerz was free to travel and join 19 of his colleagues in Washington at the National Press Club. The chefs of kings, presidents and other leaders meet every year to share their experiences. They call themselves the Club des Chefs des Chefs (CCC), a French name in line with the language of international high cuisine. This sort of Group of 20 of cooking was founded in Paris in 1977, and since then it has seen leaders’ eating habits shift towards healthier, lighter food with more vegetables, according to founder Gilles Bragard. “If you eat too much, if you drink too much, you will not make wise decisions,” the expert said. Cristeta Comerford, who cooks for U.S. President Barack Obama, is regarded as a leader in terms of healthy trends. Her broccoli tastes so good that Obama recently astonished many when he stated that it was his favorite dish. Obama’s love of broccoli is the counterpoint of former U.S. President George HW Bush’s declaration in 1990: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” The secret of Obama’s chef is that the vegetable comes fresh from first lady Michelle’s White House garden. “We want to make sure (the president and his family) are healthy,” said the only woman in the gathering. The chefs did not provide the details of their bosses’ favorite meals. They remember only too well what happened when it became known that former French president Jacques Chirac was particularly fond of calf’s head: calf’s heads from around France came pouring into the Elysee Palace. Now, such preferences are kept secret.

The chefs had little to say about slip-ups in the kitchen. “You sort of have to be perfect,” Kerz noted.

His Canadian colleague Timothy Wasylko said a snowstorm nearly once wrecked a meal.

“I had only 40 minutes to prepare a state dinner. I (had) planned 3 hours for it,” he recalled. “Everything turned out fine.”

These chefs are convinced that cuisine is crucial for diplomacy.

“If politics divide men, a good table brings them together,” Bragard said.

The members of the world’s most exclusive culinary association see themselves to a great extent as representatives of their national cuisines. Host chef Comerford presented this year some of the highlights of U.S. cooking: bison steak, burgers and other traditional dishes that were served in a barn. Kerz had his way too when Obama recently visited Germany: He served white asparagus garnished with green asparagus, with the breaded, braised meat that is known around the world as “schnitzel,” and with berries for dessert.