Hillary’s ‘Food Diplomacy’ In State Department

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US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is not known to be an avid supporter of food-related issues, as was evident in her 1992 comment, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” This impassionate statement was made during her husband’s presidential campaign and since then, nobody expects much from Hillary when it comes to matters related with food. However, in a surprising turn of events, it has come to light that she is taking a keen interest in the way food is cooked and served at the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters under her “smart diplomacy” ploy.

 


Kitchen Diplomacy

 

She has been in the department for three and a half years, during which she has made stark changes to the method of choosing, cooking and serving food, which has amused those around her. This is reflected in the meals organized for heads of state and other foreign dignitaries to the US. American cuisine is prominently showcased, especially local American ingredients. High-placed visitors are given access to their favorite snacks during their visit to America. In fact, this year’s Fourth of July celebrations at the department were marked with a surprising new component – the best apple dessert contest, held around embassy kitchens in the country. This new addition is believed to create more fireworks than the actual fireworks party at the department. The department has named an executive chef for the first time, and regularly invites celebrity chefs to cook. Favorite snacks are stocked for high-placed visitors.

 


Changing Protocol 

 


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An e-mail from Hillary to a news reporter explains her changing priorities. She writes in the e-mail, “Showcasing favorite cuisines, ceremonies and values is an often overlooked and powerful tool of diplomacy. The meals that I share with my counterparts at home and abroad cultivate a stronger cultural understanding between countries and offer a unique setting to enhance the formal diplomacy we conduct everyday.” Her staff has also been instructed to follow the same line of thought, as is evident in her deputy chief of protocol, Natalie Jones’ words that food is a crucial part of diplomatic process “because tough negotiations take place at the dining table.” Well, we wonder what took Mrs. Clinton so long to realize what, probably every diplomatic organization in the world, already knew! While the present First Lady Michelle Obama has shown a keen connection with food, which she recently displayed at a cookie bake-off contest with Mitt Romney’s wife, it seems Hillary has only now woken up to the fact that food is more than just a means of sustaining the body.

 


From Local Caterers To Local Ingredients

 

Before the arrival of Hillary at the State Department, local caterers ruled the roost with their cookie-cutter menus, which showed no scope for culinary creativity. However in 2009, a special unit was created within the State Department kitchen, which was assigned the responsibility of hosting luncheons and dinners for all the foreign dignitaries whom Hillary met. Jason Larkin, the executive chef for the department, explains, “Basically, we became an in-house catering company to control quality, instead of outsourcing it. The caterers used to do the food by the numbers, but now they have to work with us.” That explains why the customary green salads were replaced with watermelon-tomato gazpacho with Maryland crab meat. A local caterer, who has worked with the State Department kitchen for three decades, admits, “There’s a lot more scrutiny. They want grass-fed beef and organic ingredients and things that are new and different and exciting. They want to be stylish.” In fact, Larkin is involved in sourcing and purchasing local ingredients for the State Department meals.

 


Celebrity Chefs 

 

Capricia Marshall, chief of protocol at the State Department, holds food as a diplomatic tool, in accordance with the thoughts of the Secretary of State. Marshall has been a longtime confidante of Hillary, and she was first introduced to the “importance of food” when she started working with the White House chef, Walter Scheib. Scheib recalls, “every time we served her something new, she’d want to know where it came from and how to cook it. She also had a stash of 75 to 100 hot sauces in a cupboard in the family kitchen.” That is why celebrity chefs are being brought in to cook meals for important dignitaries on visit to the US. April Bloomfield of the “Spotted Pig” restaurant in New York, was selected to cook a lunch for the British Prime Minister David Cameron in March this year while Bryan Voltaggio, a chef at Volt, was hired to cook a cross-cultural meal for the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

 

With Hillary’s changing mood regarding food, things are beginning to look up for the US State Department as well as the visiting dignitaries. We wonder, what brought about this change! May be it was the sandesh that Hillary was treated to during her last visit to India.

 

Image Courtesy: braiser, slate

 

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