State Department to induct 1st American Chef Corps
This undated handout photo provided by Greg Power shows chef Mike Isabella. Top-rated chefs from Washington and across the nation are joining a new effort at the U.S. State Department to increasingly use food as a tool for diplomacy at home and abroad. On Friday, 80 chefs and culinary leaders are being inducted into the new American Chef Corps to help Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forge person-to-person connections and cultural exchanges. (AP Photo/Greg Power)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton believes in the power of food. Over more than three years as America's top diplomat, she has increasingly used cuisine as a tool to bring people together.
Now Clinton is enlisting top-rated chefs from across the nation to join an effort to forge cultural exchanges over the dining table worldwide.
On Friday, more than 80 chefs are being inducted into the first American Chef Corps. These food experts could help the State Department prepare meals for visiting dignitaries, travel to U.S. embassies abroad for educational programs with foreign audiences or host culinary experts from around the world in their U.S. kitchens.
This month, chefs and food experts from 25 countries are visiting Washington, New York, San Francisco, the Midwest and New Orleans to learn about U.S. food culture in a State Department program.
The new Diplomatic Culinary Partnership is part of Clinton's "smart power" philosophy of using "every diplomatic tool at our disposal," said U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall, in a written response to questions from The Associated Press.
Clinton's focus on the role of food in person-to-person diplomacy began when she was first lady and Marshall served as White House social secretary.
Gone is a heavy reliance on French fare or catering menus to serve special guests.
At a February luncheon for Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, Marshall called on Chinese-American chef Ming Tsai, who owns the Wellesley, Mass., restaurant Blue Ginger. He created a special menu fusing Chinese and American cultures that included an "eight treasured rice packet" with a variety of flavors and gingered Swiss chard.
To feed British Prime Minister David Cameron in March, diplomats chose Chef April Bloomfield, owner of New York's Spotted Pig, who was born in Britain. The menu included slow-cooked Atlantic salmon, herbed lentils, roasted fennel, cauliflower and petite carrots.
"By showcasing the best of American cuisine and creativity, we can show our guests a bit about ourselves," Marshall said. "Likewise, by incorporating elements of our visitor's culture, we can demonstrate respect and a desire to connect and engage."
The State Department also offers snacks or tea to jet-lagged guests with a flavor from their homes to make them comfortable.
Chefs who have prepared a diplomatic meal or special program are being anointed State Chefs, a distinction that comes with a navy jacket with the American flag and their names embroidered in gold. The roster includes Ming, Bloomfield and famed Washington-area chef Jose Andres, who cooked for the 50th anniversary of the department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms.
Food can send a message, Andres said, so he served dignitaries Louisiana Gulf shrimp to send a signal of support to fishermen struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. He said showcasing the nation's diverse offerings also shows that America "is more than just hot dogs and burgers."