June 25th, 2009
07:30 PM ET
5 years ago

Scenes from the White House: Welcome to the luau

Gibbs got dunked Thursday afternoon by an enthusiastic reporter.
Gibbs got dunked Thursday afternoon by an enthusiastic reporter.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – It's the White House South Lawn, but turn the right way and ignore the looming Washington monument, and you just might think that you're in Waikiki, Hawaii.

Welcome to the first ever White House Luau for congressional members and their families. There are Tiki torches and Tiki huts. Potted palm trees and a shell shaped performance stage. And if you hear the theme music from Jaws, it's because there are two inflatable sharks swimming in the fountain pond.

Some of the tables, where an estimated crowd of 2500 people will be seated, are wrapped in grass table skirts. Pineapples, bananas and coconuts are tastefully arranged as centerpieces.

There's also a dunk tank where guests will try to sink White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and Chief Congressional liaison Phil Schiliro with yellow softballs.

The preparations for this big bash started months ago, and in the final days the White House kitchen has been buzzing with activity.

Hawaiian chef and restaurant owner Alan Wong has been toiling over every last detail of the menu. He says he's feeling "a little bit" of pressure, but added that he and other Hawaiians are "proud of the fact that the president is from Hawaii. Everyone is just happy that we are here."

Wong wouldn't divulge all the tasty details, but he did acknowledge that "we're going to have the Kalua pig on the menu…we're going to have some potato salad, but WASABI potato salad."

Aloha! Feeling the ocean breeze? Well, I digress.

Party planners have done their best to make this luau authentic. But there was one hitch, that pig Wong was talking about wasn't roasted in a pit.

'We had a hard time convincing them [White House staff] to build an emu, and dig a hole in the south lawn, so we did it another way." The pig ended up in the oven.

Of course, a luau is about more than just food - there's the entertainment. Polynesian dancers from Hawaii have been invited to perform, and when the group's director got a call from the White House, she thought it was a joke. "After I hyperventilated," said Charlene Mae Kuupuaala Thompson, "we told our kids, and we had our own little luau at home."

Wong is still pinching himself. With a smile and a twinkle in his eyes he said, "for me, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."


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