August 5th, 2014
06:00 AM ET
8 years ago

White House preparing for ‘state dinner times 50’

Updated 12:15 p.m. ET, 8/6/2014

Washington (CNN) — Planning and executing a White House dinner for one foreign leader is hard enough — for every perfectly arranged place setting is a sari-wearing party crasher or a recently separated French president.

The careful display of protocol will only be multiplied Tuesday when fifty African leaders — in town for an historic summit convened by President Barack Obama — arrive at the White House for a formal dinner.

Battle-tested White House staffers have been busy ensuring the menu (tomato soup, aged beef) and entertainment (Lionel Richie) align with rules of etiquette and diplomacy that dictate these kinds of events.

To wit: servers are prepared to identify who will drink wine, and who will abstain because their Islamic faith forbids it.

“It’s sort of like a state dinner times fifty,” said White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford, speaking Monday in the basement kitchen of the White House as rows of cooks chopped peppers, scallions and string beans.

The vegetables will eventually turn into a four course dinner for the dozens of leaders here in Washington for Obama’s summit, meant to promote trade and investment ties between the U.S. and Africa.

Obama isn’t sitting down for any individual meetings, but aides have said he’s committed to one-on-one chats with each leader during the dinner — making the event a focal point for heads of state who want the president’s ear.

A sturdy tent has been constructed on the South Lawn for the occasion, similar to recent state dinners when guest lists inflated with political donors forced the occasion out of the State Dining Room.

The seating arrangements will be carefully plotted to ensure regional disputes don’t overshadow the evening’s intended stateliness, which will include a performance by the Oscar-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning Richie.

It’s nothing new for the protocol experts at the White House, who earlier this year maneuvered around potential embarrassments when French President Francois Hollande arrived for a state visit amid allegations of an affair. With neither his current girl friend nor alleged mistress in attendance, planners sat Hollande between Obama and the First Lady.

On Tuesday guests will dine on chilled tomato soup, a vegetable salad, and Wagyu beef (raised in Texas) that’s been marinated in chermoula, a garlicky herb blend that’s used in northern Africa.

“Even though it’s an American beef we want to give it an African touch,” Comerford explained, pointing to other ingredients like cinnamon, coffee and saffron that accent traditionally American dishes on the menu. Produce harvested from the White House garden will also appear.

Like every aspect of the evening, the menu was created with the array of guests in mind.

“We want to make sure that our Wagyu beef is all Halal, all of our purveyors make sure that everything we use is secure, came form a reliable sources, and the things that we use here are wholesome and good for our guests,” Comerford said.

Filed under: State Dinner • White House
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Hillary Inathong

    Let them eat cake damnit!!! Let them eat cake!
    Oh wait... Give the tax paid cake to the criminals that crossed the border illegally. Heck! Make them pay for the criminals' food, education, and healthcare.

    August 5, 2014 06:46 am at 6:46 am |
  2. Gurgyl

    --it is time to think of Infrastructure, Manufacturing at home than serving to these foreign guys at the cost of American Tax payer. Show your allegiance at least little to USA. Stop the Greed.

    August 5, 2014 07:35 am at 7:35 am |

    Who cares what the GOP says , the GOP GARBAGE and SEWAGE of America party with representatives LIKE Steve king and the GOP TRAMPS like BACHMAN and BLACKBURN are a national DISGRACE and EMBARSSMENT , Bachman couldn't even get reelected that's why she QUIT!!!!

    August 5, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  4. Dean

    Tofu and sprouts for everyone!

    August 5, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  5. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    It sure would be nice if the MSM referred to the POTUS as President Obama. Some do sometimes but none are consistent with it. And to think I heard someone refer to Bush 2 as a hero....

    August 5, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  6. Rick McDaniel

    We should be happy to give Obama to Africa, so he can go destroy all of their countries.

    August 5, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  7. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Planning and executing a White House dinner for one foreign leader is hard enough — for every perfectly arranged place setting is a sari-wearing party crasher or a recently separated French president.
    Really cnn?
    This entire gathering of all of these African leaders in our nation's capital, culminating with this phenomenal dinner is historic,a nd quite frankly, long overdue for our nation and the nations of Africa.
    I think that your little attempt at "humor" is piss poor and uncalled for.
    "For every place setting there is a sari-wearing crasher" indeed.
    Give it and us a break, it is my hope that this will be the first of many such dinners and alliances between our nation and the nations of the Mother Land.

    August 5, 2014 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  8. gdnctr

    Feed 'em bushmeat.

    August 5, 2014 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I wish them much success with this historic dinner.
    I hope it is the first of many of what has been a long overdue outreach effort to African nations and their leaders.
    Our President is forward focused and intent on forging crucial alliances both in business and strategically with the nations of the Mother Land.
    Welcome to my African brothers and sisters!

    August 5, 2014 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  10. it must be said

    Party on Obama... Party on. I think Obama will be the first president to spend $100 billion on parties, golf, vacations, celebrity events, Hollywood fund raisers, TV talk show appearances, campaigning and campaign fund raisers. Didn't he get elected to do a JOB?!

    August 5, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  11. David C Wold

    I can just see it ......There "HE" sits on a raised podium and one-on-one the African leaders are escorted up (my guess
    Chuck Hagel or maybe Joe Biden) to the podium to sit next to HIM (again guessing that chair is lower by a few inches). Then they can do all their thoughts/comments/discussions/etc.. for about 1-2min before escorted back to their seat at the dinner. It would give that 'warm and cozy' feeling of WE all are equal under his eyes.

    August 5, 2014 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  12. Klutch Cargo

    Welcome, my friends. The Titanic has sailed. But the food is fine. Eat and be hardy!

    August 5, 2014 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  13. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    I love the smell of Fright wing hate in the morning.....😷😷😷

    August 5, 2014 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  14. Tampa Tim

    Rick – You are wrong again. Obama is fixing the mess that Bush/Cheney/republicans wreaked on the US. Give it up.

    August 5, 2014 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  15. JJR

    This is like a family re union.

    August 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  16. WASP

    Any white people invited?

    August 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  17. Losers

    Great....wasting more taxpayer $$ on hosting a bunch of 2 bit 3rd world dictators. Great job Obo...keep it up.

    August 5, 2014 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  18. Nick

    For God's sake, Kevin Liptak, please start using spell check and grammar check before you publish an article "came form a reliable sources". It's unfathomable that in this day and age ANY reporter would ever have a grammar or typo error in a published article.

    August 5, 2014 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  19. Joe

    So obama sists down with 50 african leaders all but five have blood on their hands (the leaders of liberia, botswana, ghana, er uhm... make that three)

    August 5, 2014 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  20. Tampa Tim

    Why do wingnuts only want tax dollars to go to unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the wealthy? Diplomacy is not the republican strong suit.

    August 5, 2014 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  21. janet

    Why would Rick McDaniel specify "give Obama to Africa"? Oh, that's right, the GOP is currently whining about a "war on whites". Something tells me that if it were Romney hosting an international meeting to support cheap labor and sweatshops, Rick would be praising such an innovative move.

    August 5, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  22. OldSchool

    Walking and chewing bubble gum while the petulant children in the GOP attempt to tear him down at every opportunity, then take another month of vacation – and people have the sack to talk about Obama is always 'golfing'. Need to stop hatin' indeed...

    August 5, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  23. Gurgyl

    --no one is destroying any nation, Bush already did, Reagan did other part by shipping jobs in the name of trickle-down. Yes, stocks are way up. In fact, USA is faster recuperating under Obama with no wars.

    August 5, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  24. Longtimer

    Rick McDaniel
    We should be happy to give Obama to Africa, so he can go destroy all of their countries.

    August 5, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |

    August 5, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  25. Longtimer

    Rick McDaniel
    We should be happy to give Obama to Africa, so he can go destroy all of their countries.

    August 5, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
    You demonstrate the Right's hyper racism quite well. Does that make you proud?

    August 5, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
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