UPDATE, 5/19, 4:13pm:
The White House has unveiled the menu and additional details for Wednesday night's state dinner honoring Mexico, prepared by guest chef Rick Bayless of Chicago, and also released the following statement about the menu:
Mrs. Obama worked with Guest Chef Rick Bayless and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford to create a menu that reflects the best of American cuisine, continuing this White House's commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food, and honoring the culinary excellence and flavors that are present in Mexican cuisine. Herbs, radishes, and lettuces used in preparing tonight's dinner were harvested from the White House Kitchen Garden. White House Executive Pastry Chef William Yosses and his team made desserts using White House honey in the Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream.
And the menu itself:
Jicama with Oranges, Grapefruit, and Pineapple
Ulises Valdez Chardonnay 2007 "Russian River"
Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah
Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole
Black Bean Tamalon and Grilled Green Beans
Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 "Selección Rebecca"
Toasted Homemade Marshmallows
Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream
Mumm Napa "Carlos Santana Brut" N/V
For a rough preview of what state dinner guests might expect from Bayless' menu, as well as a look at the menu itself and the East Room of the White House prior to the dinner, flip through the brief slideshow below:
* * *
Earlier post below:
Caryn Rousseau of the Associated Press reports:
Will it be his pork with green tomatillo-avocado salsa, or the duck breast in red chile-apricot mole?
Perhaps the bacon-flavored corn masa cakes stuffed with black beans.
At the first family's request, Chicago chef Rick Bayless has been mum on his menu for the state dinner Wednesday to honor Mexican President Felipe Calderon, though he's dropped some hints:
_ He's preparing a black mole sauce that takes days to make from scratch and includes more than 20 ingredients. "It's a really laborious thing," Bayless said. "But for an event like this nothing is too difficult."
_ Herbs and lettuces from the White House garden will be used in at least one course. "We're not sure exactly what we'll get," he said, "but we'll play around with that ..."
_ For dessert, strawberries picked from a local farm will be involved.
Fittingly, the celebrity chef with three top restaurants in Chicago specializes in contemporary Mexican cooking. He said Mrs. Obama requested the menu secrecy so the first family's 200 guests won't feel as if "they'd eaten the meal before they got there."
This is the Obamas' second state dinner, and Bayless is the second guest chef that Mrs. Obama has requested. In November, award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson prepared a meal for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The first couple are no strangers to Bayless' cuisine, having dined out on his cooking in their hometown. Bayless has called them "adventurous" eaters and said they ordered tasting menus.
Bayless was inspired by Mexican market foods more than two decades ago. He's the author of several Mexican cookbooks, appears in his own PBS series, "Mexico – One Plate at a Time," and has competed on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters."
He has also earned his share of awards: In 1988 Food & Wine named him best new chef. Three years later, the Beard Foundation named him best Midwest chef, then national chef of the year in 1995. Bon Appetit magazine named him cooking teacher of the year in 2002.
But he considers preparing a White House state dinner a career highlight.
"It's moving into a different realm that I don't usually cook in," Bayless said. "I'm really honored to be able to offer what little thing I can offer to creating this special moment."
Planning for the state dinner started months ago, when Bayless said he proposed several menus and narrowed them to the best choices. Then White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford visited Bayless in Chicago for a special tasting and to see plate presentations.
"I went to the table to ask them how everything was," Bayless said. "It was very clear that Chef Comerford was not there to have a good time. She was there to do her job."
Bayless passed muster with Comerford and aims to prepare a state dinner "that will be both well executed and really interesting."
Cooking at the White House, he said, does have some restrictions. He said officials have to know where all the ingredients come from. At one point, he was told he couldn't bring his own knives (eventually he got permission.)
"I said that's like asking a famous runner to run in someone else's tennis shoes," Bayless said.
The chef said he never would have expected his type of modern cooking to be served at the White House.
"It's really a testament to the Obama administration," Bayless said. "They're really taking the wraps off everything and saying what's appropriate for right now."
Before arriving in Washington, Chef Bayless spoke with NPR, giving additional details:
[M]ost people in the United States think - still think of Mexican food so much in terms of the simple street foods like tacos and such. And I certainly wanted to feature something that I consider to be Mexico's greatest dish. So, yes, Im going to be making a mole and I think it's got 27, 28 different ingredients in it.
There's no ingredient that we're going to be bringing from home. The biggest challenge for me is to actually create the food that we do in our restaurants in the White House kitchen. I think there will probably be aromas in that kitchen that have never been there before.
Lynn Sweet has some logistical details at the Chicago Sun-Times:
In a further crack down on reporting, the White House this time is not planning any advance event to preview the dinner. Last year on the afternoon of the India dinner, Mrs. Obama's East Wing set up sample table settings; the first lady arranged for a briefing on the history of state dinners for the group of girls she is mentoring. I'm told reporters will be able to see a place setting only just before the dinner.
The main Calderon dinner is in the East Room; desert and entertainment will be on the South Lawn in order for more people to be invited. The East Room only holds about 200.