Jello salad and lots of biscuits: reminiscences of a White House chef
December 23rd, 2013
01:13 PM ET
9 months ago

Jello salad and lots of biscuits: reminiscences of a White House chef

(CNN) - John Moeller knows a lot of secrets from his time working at the White House.

But unlike a former Oval Office aide or a chief of staff, he has the real dish and is leaving nothing off the table.

Moeller is letting America in on the gravy - and the biscuits and the jello salad and rest of the menu at the White House from his years there as a chef.

In his new book, "Dining at the White House: From the President's Table to Yours," Moeller reminiscences about one of the most demanding jobs at the nation's most famous residence.

He provides an insider's account of the pressures and pleasures in serving daily meals to the leader of the free world and his family, as well as famous guests such as Britain's Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela.

Moeller started as a sous chef in 1992 and rose through the ranks to become acting White House Chef, preparing thousands of meals in the second-floor kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Yes, I was a chef, but a lot of the time I felt more like a dietician," he told CNN.

During the holidays, the Clintons broke away from healthier meals for family favorites from Arkansas such as french beans with toasted almonds and bing cherry jello salad, he said.

"Chelsea really loved sweet potatoes, orange-flavored sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmallows on top," Moeller said.

The holiday season meant more work, with the White House chefs feeding the first family and thousands of guests at multiple parties and events.

"The toughest days we had were when we fed approximately 500 people for lunch and another 500 for dinner on the same day," Moeller recalled.

He writes that during the holiday season, the team cooked 1,000 biscuits a day and produced six barrels of eggnog in advance of the back-to-back parties.

One year, Moeller and his staff made 1,500 to 2,500 canapés per day to satisfy a Clinton preference for the bite-sized decorative treats.

"If that's what the family liked, that's what we were there to do," he said.

Catering for hundreds of people in a museum-like environment provided another challenge for Moeller and his team, with people eating off of small pieces of history.

"At times, I was serving food on plates from the Harrison administration to the Reagans," he said. "You were always mindful that these are irreplaceable."

Moeller writes how even a routine luncheon can become an extraordinary experience when you find out that Julia Child is in the audience, sampling your food.

"It's probably a good thing I didn't know Mrs. Child was a guest," he writes.

Despite any concerns Moeller might have had, Child blessed his work. In a letter to the White House after the luncheon, the world famous chef and author wrote, "During subsequent visits, I was not impressed. But, when I returned for the Sarah Lee Frontrunner awards luncheon, I was delighted to find the White House sparkling ... and the food delicious."


Filed under: White House
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    This is a fun story to read. Wish you told us more about the food..........guess I will have to buy the book.
    Tough job...........for sure!

    December 23, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    I wonder how Mr. Moeller will fair on Chopped or Top Chef. Cooking a 1,000 biscuits is a big task, but hey, Hardee's does it everyday.

    December 23, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |