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Feeding the first family



Published: Sat, August 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: Cheeseburgers and asparagus soup don't necessarily go together as well as, say, peanut butter and jelly. But the ability to cook both to perfection -- and whip up a tasty late-night PB & amp;J sandwich -- was a prerequisite for winning one of the toughest celebrity chef jobs in the world. Also high on the list of prerequisites was the ability to be simpatico at all hours with the bosses, Laura and "W" -- one with a sophisticated palate wanting to be wowed, the other, well, that's where the cheeseburgers and PB & amp;J come into the picture.

The winner and new White House executive chef is Cristeta Comerford. She's the first woman and first minority to hold the job. Her r & eacute;sum & eacute; reads like a classic American success story. She's a naturalized citizen who arrived from the Philippines at 23 with a degree in food technology from the University of the Philippines. She worked for a time in Vienna then went on to the kitchens of two major Washington hotels. She was hired by the White House as an assistant chef 10 years ago.

Now, at 42, she has worked her way into the top job, a previously all-male domain at a house where the evening meal can be a cozy supper for two or an elaborate state dinner for a hundred.

Chops for the job

By all accounts, Comerford has the chops for the job. She's reported to be unflappable under fire and able to adapt to any situation that arises. She certainly kept her cool during the six months that Laura Bush considered various applicants for the job after she had fired the former top chef, Walter Scheib, a Clinton administration holdover. Even he raves about Comerford's cooking and compatibility.

This celebrity chef job is unlike any other. There's no high salary and zero chance for lucrative endorsements. Those who most recently held the title reportedly earned between $80,000 and $100,000.

By all signs Comerford works hard and prepares delicious food. Apparently she also has one other attribute essential to this job: She doesn't cook and tell. She was notably close-mouthed about the competition before being named executive chef and after the appointment she left for a Mexican vacation with her family. Probably doing research.




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