I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything but this one will get us back on track. I’ve got more Green Plum Cooking School blog posts coming very soon. Thanks for being patient! MP
When people ask me what it was like to be invited to the White House by Michelle Obama, I tell them, “It was HOT!” I do mean that figuratively, but mostly literally.
It all started with a call from Vermont. Gracie Cavnar, founder and director of Recipe for Success, calls me from Vermont to laughingly chide me, “I invited you to the White House and I want to know why you haven’t responded!” Truth be told, I’ve been so busy I missed that email. Gracie tells me that Michelle Obama is launching Chefs Move to Schools, the second part of her Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity; the event is in less than a week on the South Lawn of the White House and the First Lady wants 1,000 chefs from all across the country to show up in answer to her call to action. She knows that a group of chefs is a powerful thing, and not just because we all wear white jackets.
I have been working with Gracie and Recipe for Success since its inception over four years ago. The Recipe for Success Foundation’s mission is to combat childhood obesity through dynamic, interactive programs that bring chefs and gardens into schools. The way I see it, we’re not just fighting obesity, we are also fighting hunger – the kids I teach are starving for real food with real nutrition. Recipe for Success reaches 3,500 kids in Houston each month, all 4th graders, and changes their relationship to food by connecting them to the sources of real food. I help by teaching in the classroom once a month. The kids’ first question always is, “Have you been on TV?” And when I tell them I have, they want to know if it was Iron Chef, or Chopped or… (fill in any reality TV show involving food here). That is their slim connection to food when I start the school year with them. But, somewhere in the middle, they become thoughtful, informed, curious eaters and cooks; every year, even though I know it is going to happen, this transformation continues to astound and move me.
Gracie tells me that she is bringing six Recipe for Success chefs and six Board members to the White House and she wants me to join them. I have some schedule adjustments to make, and I want to bring my daughter, Lili. I regretted not bringing her to Terra Madre three and half years earlier in Turino. But, for more than a couple of days, I am actually debating going, which is ridiculous. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. A friend who works for Continental Airlines arranges our flights. I reschedule my Thursday night gig. I am starting to get excited, but Lili is nervous. Scared, is more like it. I know how she feels. When I go on the “circuit” and have to perform like I did on Top Chef Masters, it’s nerve-racking, but I’m not sure why Lili is nervous. I tell her she doesn’t have to perform. It’s her first week out of school and her summer is looking really exciting!
We arrive in D.C. and Lili and I head to the Native American museum because Lili is part Native American and I had heard it was a new and fabulous museum (although, to be honest, Lili was more interested in the gift shop where she got a traditional [but made in China!] beaded necklace and bracelet; she only wants to wear the bracelet as an anklet. I buy some traditional beef jerky.) The cafeteria there serves good food from different native Indian regions like traditional South American or New Mexican. Lili is more excited about room service and movies back at the hotel than exploring D.C. And she’s still nervous about going to the White House.
Weather-related delays cause the rest of our group to arrive at odd times, so Lili and I are hanging out with Rahm Emmanuel at the Sofitel bar. We’re supposed to get together with our group at 8:30pm, but it’s not until three hours later that Randy Evans and Michael Kramer arrive. Lili is disappointed because she is looking for Marcus Samuelsson. He tweeted that he was going to be here. We would see Barbara McKnight and Kiran Verma the next day at the breakfast. It’s off to bed, though, because we’ve got to meet in the lobby at 7:45am tomorrow to get to the breakfast of champions (or chefs, that is) at the Marriot just down from the White House.
The next morning, the breakfast room is a-buzz. Everyone is in chef uniforms, starched more than usual, and unusually cordial. I run into some old chef friends like Ann Cooper, Kim Muller and Marcus Samuelsson. Some young chefs come up to take a photo with me since I had just been on Top Chef Masters. Most of the chefs can’t believe Marcus and I hug after he said those things about my game playing on the show. They can’t believe we are friends – but we really are. He grabs Lili by her shoulders and says, “Your mom was the best chef. The best chef!” And Lili is looking up at him and replies simply, “I know.”