For Modi's state dinner, the White House is elevating the mushroom
For the first time in recent history, the White House is hosting a state dinner that's entirely plant-based: no meat, no dairy and no eggs. That's thanks to the guest of honor, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a strict vegetarian.
"We have curated a menu that showcases the best in American cuisine also then seasoned with Indian elements and flavors," Chef Nina Curtis, who was brought in as a guest chef for the dinner, told reporters. Curtis specializes in plant-based cuisine.
"Throughout my culinary career, I have witnessed the remarkable power that food has as an equalizer," Curtis added, saying that the menu for the state dinner allows guests from both countries to "experience something of the other's culture."
What's on the menu?
While there are no specifically Indian dishes on the menu, many Indian spices and flavors are incorporated into the courses.
The first course includes a salad made with marinated millet, grilled corn, and compressed watermelon with an avocado sauce.
The main course is a stuffed portobello mushroom with a creamy saffron-infused risotto.
The dessert is an Indian-spiced take on American classic: a rose- and cardamom-infused strawberry shortcake. White House executive pastry chef Susie Morrison said the dessert features a decorative sugar twist; they made 900 of them for the dinner.
If guests so desire, they can request a fish dish — sumac-roasted sea bass — along with crisped millet cakes and summer squashes. The wine options include a red blend from an Indian-owned vineyard in Napa Valley, California.
Millet is a main feature in the menu, a nod to India's efforts to make 2023 the year of the millet, the White House said.
A 'regimented' process to planning the dinner
The White House occasionally invites guest chefs to help plan state dinners.
Back in April, when South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol came to the White House for a state visit, first lady Jill Biden brought in Edward Lee, a Korean-American chef with restaurants in Washington and Louisville, Ky. as a guest chef.
"The process was very regimented and there was a lot of steps to it. Obviously, there's security, but there's a lot of protocols," Lee told NPR.
He traveled to Washington several times to help develop the menu, and praised the White House culinary staff for being easy to work with. He said Jill Biden herself was "very involved" in the process, but gave him the leeway to create the menu for the night.
"Really, the only directive that I was given was that President Biden likes ice cream," Lee said. "Other than that, they were pretty much willing to let me creatively flow with what I wanted to do with the menu."
Lee noted the importance of paying attention to dietary restrictions of guests, and combining the best of American cuisine with a "little bit of Korean flair."
Like the diplomacy of the night, the stakes are also high in the kitchen, he said.
"Normally if you screw up a dinner you just have some complaining guests, but these are heads of nations, so the pressure's really on," Lee said.
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