After 11 years as White House chef, Walter Scheib III has been pushed out of the kitchen by First Lady Laura Bush. While Scheib says he wants to leave on a positive note, insiders say that the 'top toque' was unhappy at the Bush's insistence that he give up all French recipes and cooking techniques, and create an elaborate inaugural menu paying tribute to the brand names of a dozen top Bush campaign and GOP donors.
With Lea Berman at the helm, more 'donor dinners' expected
By Deanna Swift
WASHINGTON, DC—After 11 years as the chief chef of the White House, Walter Scheib 3rd is taking off his toque, collecting his knives, and moving on. In a statement to the press, the chef acknowledged that he had been fired due to an inability to meet the stylistic requirements of the first lady.
Mr. Scheib's removal is part of a comprehensive makeover of the social wing of the White House. Former White House social secretary Cathy Fenton was recently replaced by Lea Berman, a prominent Washington DC entertainer. Ms. Berman is expected to be involved in all aspects of White House entertaining, from food, to flowers and other decorations.
A bad taste
While Mr. Scheib was gracious in his parting words, saying that it had been an honor to serve the first lady, sources close to the chef say that his relationship with the first family had grown increasingly tense since he was asked to stop using French recipes and cooking techniques after France refused to support the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Asking a chef schooled in the culinary tradition of Escoffier to forego béchamel and beurre blanc is a major sacrifice, says historian Will Anthony, the author of a forthcoming book on the chefs who've served the White House. "It would be the equivalent of telling the president of the United States that he could never eat his beloved barbecue again," says Anthony.
Tensions were further exacerbated, say sources close to the chef, by White House orders that Scheib create a special inaugural menu to honor the brand names represented by more than a dozen top GOP and Bush campaign donors. Scheib was reportedly vocal about his unhappiness over having to create dishes that featured such ingredients as Coca-Cola, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Pilgrim's Pride Whole Butter Basted Turkeys.
Money on the menu
The menu that Scheib ultimately composed, served at three candlelight inaugural dinners, is a testimony to the chef's ingenuity. He brined the Pilgrim's Pride turkeys in Coca-Cola, before stuffing them with sweet-and-savory stuffing made from Dunkin Donuts old-fashioned cake doughnuts. (Pilgrim CEO Lonnie Pilgrim was a Bush pioneer in 2004, pledging to bring in more than $100,000 in contributions to the Bush/Cheney campaign, while Dunkin Donut is a long-time GOP contributor). (Click thumbnail to enlarge menu image.)
Also on the menu: Cedar Plank "Pacific Seafoods" Sockeye Salmon in "Dole Pineapple" Sauce, inspired by Bush campaign Pioneers Frank Dulcich, CEO of Pacific Seafoods, and David H. Murdock, Chair and CEO of Dole Food Co. And for dessert: more doughnuts. For the final course, Scheib paired Krispy Kreme "Snow Balls" with Nestlé "Nesquik" Hot Fudge Sauce and Asher's Chocolate Covered Mini-Pretzles, a dish that was inspired by Pioneers Joe M. Weller, Chair & CEO of Nestle USA, and Robert Asher, Chair of Ashers Candies, and by Krispy Kreme Donuts, which gave more than $90,000 to the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004.
A new direction
It's unclear what impact the departure of Chef Scheib will have on the kind of food being served at official White House functions. But the appointment of Ms. Berman as social secretary seems to indicate that the White House plans to continue shaping meals and menus to honor major Bush donors. Ms. Berman's husband, Wayne Berman, is a long-time GOP fundraiser.
Scheib hasn't said what his future plans are. Before becoming chief chef at the White House, Scheib cooked at the Capitol Hilton in Washington and at the Boca Raton Club in Boca Raton, FL. Historian Anthony says that regardless of any bitterness between the chef and the first family, Scheib likely has a bright future ahead of him. "Former White House chefs have gone on to do great things. Look at Verdon and Mesnier," says Anthony. "Scheib has proven that he can pretty much do anything. Where else are they going to tell him he can't use a mirepoix and that he has to come up with dishes out of Coke and doughnuts?"
Coca-Cola brined Pilgrim's Pride turkey with Dunkin Donuts old-fashioned cake doughnut sweet and savory stuffing*
1 1/4 cups salt
1 quart Coca-Cola
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
1 10- to 12-pound Pilgrim's Pride Whole Butter Basted Turkey
1. Place salt and Coca-Cola in a large deep pot and whisk until salt crystals dissolve. Whisk in 4 quarts cold water. Pin bay leaves to onion halves with cloves and add them to brine. Let mixture cool to room temperature.
2. Add Pilgrim's Pride turkey, placing a large heavy pot or sealed zip-top bag filled with cold water on top to keep bird submerged in Coca-Cola. Place pot in refrigerator and marinate overnight.
Dunkin Donuts old-fashioned cake doughnut sweet and savory stuffing
6 cups Dunkin Donuts old-fashioned cake doughnuts, chopped
2 cups diced onion
1/2 cup butter
2 cups cranberries
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon dried sage
1 cup chicken broth
Cook onion in butter or margarine over low heat until soft. Add doughnuts, cranberries, rosemary and sage, chicken broth, salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently but thoroughly.
Remove Pilgrim's Pride turkey from Coca-Cola brine. Thoroughly rinse turkey under a slow stream of cool water, rubbing gently to release salt and soda residue, both inside and out. Pat skin and both interior cavities dry.
Remove neck and giblets. Begin lightly spooning doughnut stuffing into the neck cavity, then into the body cavity. After the bird has been stuffed, secure the legs to the tail. If the band of skin is not present, tie the legs securely to the tail with string. Twist the wing tips under the back of the turkey so they won't overcook.
Roast turkey, breast side down, in a preheated 325 degree F oven for 2 hours. During this time, baste legs and back twice with Coca-Cola.
*Recipe provided courtesy of White House kitchen.
Deanna Swift can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.