August 5th, 2014
06:00 AM ET
6 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. Edward

    All the meat will be Halal? What about those who object to eating meat that has been tortured to death? Why must all switch to the Muslim system of eating?

    August 5, 2014 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  2. Throw OUT all Democrat D-Baggers from Congress

    Millions and millions spent, nothing accomplished. Wouldn't all this money be better spent trying to help the victims of ebola in Africa? Of course it would, but Obama and these clowns do have their own priorities, themselves.

    August 5, 2014 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    So obama sists down with 50 african leaders all but five have blood on their hands
    -----------------------------------------------------
    Um, yeah, because we certainly do not.
    Please...
    Shut up and sit down.

    August 5, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  4. Who cares

    Longtimer

    Let Obama redistribute your wealth, if you have any.

    August 5, 2014 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  5. Jerry

    I too would like to give 0Bama to Africa! So they can share equally in 0Bama's destructive intentions. (Along with Bubble Head Pelosi, Senile Reid, "What at this time does it matter" Clinton, etc., etc., etc.)

    Being a life-long Democrat, I never believed I would be stating this comment about my party. WOW!

    Bug-in-your ear to Dominican mama 4 Obama: Isn't it time that you removed your silly blinders. You are giving all good/hardworking/patriotic Dominicans a bad rep!!!

    August 5, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  6. foreverflag

    Why not take the homeless in Chicago, hometown, and invite them as guest. Or maybe have a Christian Dinner inviting
    leaders of countries that are mainly Christian. Double standard???

    August 5, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  7. mutantsubhuman

    No soul food?

    August 5, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  8. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    JJR says:
    August 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am
    This is like a family re union.

    WASP says:
    August 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am
    Any white people invited?

    The poor put upon whites.... How will they solve this war against them?

    August 5, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  9. Sniffit

    "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?!"

    Bush 2 still has him beat. The numbers don't lie....just you guys and your ridiculous RWNJ sources like Faux, WND and Breitbart. And BTW, it is intimately part of the POTUS's job to conduct state affairs and diplomatic outreach in every manner possible, including wining and dining important world leaders in order to create better relations that might lead to us getting more of what we want out of them.

    Oh, and just to rub it in a little....CNN article from February 2014: "A little less pomp and pageantry: Obama hosts fewer state dinners."

    You Teatrolls seriously need to grow up, get out of the diapers and get some big boy pants.

    August 5, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  10. Sniffit

    "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."'

    In fact, he'd probably suggest we "tap the labor resources" in Africa.

    August 5, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  11. Anonymous

    Name JK. SFL. THE GOP THE NATIONAL JOKE PARTY , WE WONT PASS ANYTHING AND STILLGET PAID
    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 |
    ______________________________________

    My my such anger, take your meds. The only embarrassment is OBama and the trash Democrats.

    August 5, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  12. Scott

    Tampa Tim
    Rick – You are wrong again. Obama is fixing the mess that Bush/Cheney/republicans wreaked on the US. Give it up.
    ______________________
    Nope Tampon Tim, Obama is making everything worse. But you and the rest of you liberals see only what you want to see.

    August 5, 2014 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  13. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Longtimer says:
    August 5, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am
    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?

    He's extremely proud.... He even considers Lincoln to be a traitor....

    August 5, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  14. OldSchool

    Let them eat cake

    August 5, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  15. Malory Archer

    OldSchool
    Let them eat cake

    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    Jealous much? LOL – perhaps you invitation just got "lost in the mail".

    August 5, 2014 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  16. frankiesweep

    Better eat up...

    August 5, 2014 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  17. J Biden

    This is just what the president needs. Flying around attending fundraisers and playing golf takes a lot out of a person. Time to relax, like the commoners, and spend a couple of $100 million dollars on a nice dinner.

    August 5, 2014 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  18. bubba

    Dominican mama 4 Obama
    you always have such meaningful comments....NOT.

    August 5, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  19. salty dog

    Must be said, think of all the BBQ sauce your tax dollars paid for, and you didn't even get a drum stick, poor guy.

    August 5, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  20. fact checker

    "... when French President Francois Hollande arrived for a state visit amid allegations of an extramarital affair. With neither his wife nor mistress in attendance, planners sat Hollande between Obama and the First Lady."

    The French president is not and has never been married, so chances of him coming with his "wife" were non-existant in the first place...good job, CNN.

    August 5, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  21. Malory Archer

    Edward
    All the meat will be Halal? What about those who object to eating meat that has been tortured to death? Why must all switch to the Muslim system of eating?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    Actually, Halal is very similar to Kosher, both of which employ more humane methods of raising and slaughtering. Torture is what happens to American animals raised on feed lots or in filthy, confined spaces.

    August 5, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  22. salty dog

    Jerry is a little upset that your smarter than him, he was so comfortable thinking your all dumb, if he only knew.

    August 5, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  23. Joyce

    I just have one question..why is the dinner tonight called for 9:30 pm? It says exactly that
    on whitehouse.gov/schedule.

    August 5, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  24. Malory Archer

    Jerry

    Being a life-long Democrat, I never believed I would be stating this comment about my party. WOW!

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    For about the fiftieth time Jerry, stop LYING about being a Dem. Nobody has bought that lie since the first time you trotted it out six months ago.

    August 5, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  25. None

    Why does everyone have to eat Halal meat because only a few require it? Provide Halal meat for muslims, but non-Halal for everyone else. I personally think Halal form of slaughter is cruel and I also prefer not to have a religious prayer (from a religion that's not my own) said over the meat.

    August 5, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
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