Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Video: Executive Chef Cris Comerford On Working At The White House

The Top Toque talks about her high-pressure job, and says all kids should learn to cook...but reveals that she didn't plan to be a chef...
White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford stars in a new video on the federal Kids.gov website, as part of a series on government careers. A native of the Philippines, Comerford, 48, has worked at the White House since 1995. On August 14th, she marked her sixth anniversary as head of the most high-profile kitchen in America: President Obama and First Lady Obama kept Comerford as their Top Toque on the advice of former First Lady Laura Bush.

In the new video, Comerford preps Italian eggplant ("a wonderful staple") from Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden as she discusses her "high pressure" responsibilities, talks about the importance of kids learning to cook, and reveals that in her younger days, she actually had no plans to be a chef. (Above: Comerford in action at the President & First Lady's 2011 Governors Dinner in February)

It's high pressure
working for President Obama...
"My main responsibility as the Executive Chef at the White House is taking care of the First Family, foremost and all," Comerford explains onscreen. "Just their daily meals, and of course if they have any social functions, or State Dinners, or any kind of entertaining, we take care of everything in the kitchen."

"Definitely it's high pressure, because first and foremost, it's only for the President of the United States," Comerford says, laughing, and notes that she has to keep dietary restrictions as well as protocol in mind when foreign dignitaries visit the White House.

"There's a lot of things to learn," Comerford says.

Let's Move! and the Kitchen Garden...
Comerford gets in a pitch for Mrs. Obama's signature Let's Move! initiative without actually mentioning the campaign by name. All kids should learn to cook, Comerford says. (Above: Comerford, center, with the First Lady at the veggie weighing station during the Fall 2010 Kitchen Garden Harvest. Assistant chef Sam Kass is at left)

"If you really make the food yourself, you could control the taste, you could control the fat that's in there, you could control the salt, you could control the sugar, and at the end of the day its very rewarding because it's your own hand that made it," Comerford says.

"Be hands on, work really hard," Comerford adds. "Help out your mom and dad in the kitchen."

She also discusses the wonders of Mrs. Obama's 1,500-square foot Kitchen Garden.

"We have harvested so much in that little garden," Comerford says. "And in the span of like 2 1/2 years, I mean there's like three hundred at least pounds of produce that we have harvested throughout the years."*

The road to the White House...
Though she's been a professional cook since she was 23, Comerford says that being a chef was not in her life's plan--at first.

"I didn't know I wanted to be a chef growing up. It was definitely not on my top list," Comerford says. "I wanted to be a scientist."

Still, Comerford, 48, started to study food technology while attending the University of the Philippines. Her father, Comerford said, asked her why she didn't just go to the legendary Le Cordon Bleu to study. Though she'd been helping her mother cook for the family's eleven children at home in Sampaloc, Manila, Comerford says being a chef "wasn't what I was gearing up for."

"I just laughed at him," Comerford says of her father's query. "But it was very, very right."

"You should listen to your parents," Comerford adds.

She emigrated to the US before finishing her degree at the University, and went to work in hotel kitchens in Chicago, Illinois. The rest, as they say is history: Comerford is the first female and first minority to be Executive Chef at the White House.

*Note: The actual poundage of the vegetables that have come out of the very productive Kitchen Garden is actually closer to 3,000 lbs at this point, just for the record.

*White House video. Top photo by Pete Souza/White House. Kitchen Garden photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama

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