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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Sunday, October 13 2019 @ 08:56 PM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Sunday, October 13 2019 @ 08:56 PM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

Hail to the chef

Both the first families that Walter Scheib served included children, making his experience as White House chef a bit different from his predecessors'.

"To meet Chelsea and the Bush twins - it was unique to see people that age in the White House, to work with them, be around them. It was a lot of fun," Scheib said. "They tended to gravitate to the kitchen, just like anywhere else."Scheib recalls Chelsea Clinton's decision to become a vegetarian when she was a senior in high school.

"Mrs. Clinton knew (Chelsea) would be going away soon, so she asked me, 'Can you give her some cooking lessons?' So she spent a couple of hours, a couple or times a week with us, learning about cooking, and about (being) vegetarian, that it doesn't mean just eating vegetables."

One dish that Scheib taught Chelsea to make was sweet potatoes with a southeast Asian twist.

"She loved sweet potatoes, being from Arkansas," Scheib said. "We took that pedestrian vegetable and put a great Thai spin on it."

The result was Red Curry Sweet Potato Soup, a velvety blend of sweet potato, coconut milk and chicken stock flavored with ginger, garlic, shallots, lemon grass and lime juice.

A compilation of his stories and recipes appears in his book "The White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen" (Wiley, $25). It is not a tell-all.

"I would never do or say anything to embarrass them. It was a great honor to work there," Scheib said. "I got to do every day, three times a day, what most chefs never get to do, that is serve the first family of the United States. I got to know them as real families, instead of the cartoon characters that the media would have you believe."

The book chronicles his experiences, from family dinners to state dinners for guests including Boris Yeltsin, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Princess Di.

"It's a book about cooking, as opposed to a cookbook," he said. "It's only about 60 recipes. The recipes are driven by the stories."

Scheib is particularly proud of working with Hillary Clinton to move away from the "old-fashioned, European" style cuisine served at the White House.

"In the early '90s, in order to make her mark, Mrs. Clinton decided to bring contemporary American cuisine to the White House. That was her mandate (to me). Before that, there was that standard continental style, served on big platters," Scheib said. "We went to a stylized, plated meal, like restaurant-style.

"The dishes were driven by great ingredients. The idea that great food starts with great seasonal ingredients was popularized in the mid-70s by people like Alice Waters, then embraced by regional American chefs."

Scheib said contemporary American cuisine is still evolving, incorporating ethnic overtones, reflecting the changes in the American population.


3 pounds whole sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons grated lemon grass

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 to 2 teaspoons red curry paste, to taste

1 kaffir leaf

2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock

4 ounces unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons lime juice

4 stalks scallion, cut into fine julienne

Yields 8 servings.

In 325 F, oven roast whole sweet potatoes until soft. Peel and puree in food processor until smooth.

Heat oil in 4-quart soup pot and in it sweat ginger, lemon grass, garlic and shallot until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add curry paste and kaffir leaf. Stir well and cook about 1 minute. Add sweet potato puree and mix. Cook well, 1 minute.

Add stock as needed to reach consistency desired (to coat back of ladle lightly) and simmer 10 minutes. (Soup can be made to this point and then refrigerated until needed, up to two days.)

To serve: Heat soup, stir in coconut milk and lime juice. Serve in large terrine or individual bowls, garnished with scallion julienne.

Note: For heartier soup, add cooked shrimp, scallops, crab meat or cooked chicken.

Saimi Rote Bergmann is the food editor for the Canton (Ohio) Repository. Her e-mail address is saimi.bergmann @cantonrep.com.

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