Fifty chefs gathered last week to celebrate the U.S. Department of State’s ambitious new venture, the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership
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Setting the Table for Diplomacy

Meryle Evans / September 26th, 2012

It was hail to the chefs—over 50 of them!—at a gala U.S. Department of State reception last week for the launch of the Department’s ambitious new venture, the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership. With the broad mission of elevating “the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomatic efforts” the program incorporates food, hospitality, and the dining experience into Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “smart power” philosophy of encouraging the use of any tool of diplomacy to cultivate cultural understanding between countries.

A key component is the creation of an American Chef Corps, established by the Office of the Chief of Protocol, that has already blossomed into a network of 80 prominent chefs willing to participate in a variety of outreach endeavors, some of them already under way. “What an exciting and historic day” said Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation, a partner in the enterprise, speaking at the reception, a sentiment echoed by many of the 55 chef/ambassadors who had come from across the country for the occasion. White House chef Sam Kass declared “This is an incredible honor, I’m thrilled and humbled to be part of it, we have the ability to do so much.”

Twenty three members of the American Chef Corps who have already participated in State-sponsored events have been designated the 2012 Class of State Chefs. They stood out among the hundreds of guests at the reception, dapper in navy blue jackets adorned with the flag of the United States, the seal of the Department of State, and their names embroidered in gold. Several members of the class have collaborated on meals for special occasions and to honor visiting dignitaries—Jose Andres prepared the dinner for the 50th anniversary of the Department’s elegant suite of reception rooms; Ming Tsai, chef/owner of Blue Ginger, Wellesley, Mass., was enlisted to cook for Vice President Xi Jinping of China; while Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield’s English-accented dinner delighted British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Another initiative organized by the Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs’ U.S. Expert program, links American chefs traveling abroad with U.S. Embassies and foreign audiences to promote our culinary traditions, food products, and history. Top Chef competitor Mike Isabella was asked to stop at embassies and restaurants during a research trip to Turkey and Greece, while Mourad Lalou, Aziza, San Francisco, has appeared on satellite TV to explain Moroccan/American cooking abroad.

A third State Department agency, The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, invites emerging foreign leaders in many different fields for three week tours of the United States. For the first time this year, one of the programs focuses on the culinary arts, with a group of 25 food professionals from Brazil to Vietnam currently starting a cross country trek to connect with local chefs, agriculturalists, and culinary instructors. On their itinerary: volunteering at D. C. Central Kitchen; in California, touring Alice Water’s edible school yard, and Michael Chiarello’s vineyards and Bottega restaurant in Napa; a cooking lesson in New Orleans with culinary authority, Poppy Tooker; and visits to rural, sustainable farms in Illinois and Nebraska.

At the State Department reception, held in a suite of handsome Diplomatic Reception Rooms, the foreign visitors sampled a bountiful array of American foods. In the Thomas Jefferson Room they nibbled on artisanal cheese from California producers Cowgirl Creamery and Cypress Grove, cured meats made by Creminelli Fine Meats, Salt Lake City, Utah, and New York City’s Sullivan Street Bakery bread, and quaffed hand crafted D.C. Brau Brewing Company beer, and Springfield, Virginia, Vino 50. In the capacious Benjamin Franklin Room the offerings included from Volt, Maryland, Bryan Voltaggio’s bison rib with fig, smoked almond, charred onion and juniper; Los Angeles’ Mary Sue Milliken’s heirloom bean and bacon tostado; and Anson Mills farro salad with smoked Carolina swordfish prepared by Washington, D.C.’s Art Smith and Wes Morton.

Duff Goldman, Charm City Cakes, contributed an immense globe-shaped cake, supplemented by a plethora of sweets including Mars, Incorporated, American Heritage Chocolate. It was our iconic ambassador Ben Franklin who famously said “Diplomacy is seduction in another guise,” and the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership is certain to carry on that tradition.

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