President Donald Trump is currently on the lookout for a new National Security Advisor and a new nominee to lead the Department of Labor. But America’s foodies have their own pressing question about the new administration: Who will be the next White House executive chef?
The executive chef is in charge of feeding the president and First Family every day, catering to official guests at the White House — from Prime Ministers to the egg-rolling masses — as well as all private functions for the president and the first lady. It is one of the most high-profile jobs in the American foodie universe.
The problem is that Trump hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself to the food world. He’s mired in a lawsuit against celebrity chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian, both of whom backed out of deals with him. Others, like Tom Colicchio, have been outspoken about their disgust for the new president — and his regressive taste in food.
Trump is out of step with the culinary world’s current trend of prizing local, fresh, and seasonal fare. Melania Trump has said she’ll preserve the vegetable garden Michelle Obama planted on the White House lawn, but it’s safe to guess that the two presidents’ shared culinary sensibilities end there. Take a look back to the campaign trail back in 2008: Obama couldn’t finish a plate of waffles, while Trump annihilated brick-sized slabs of red velvet cake. Obama kept a bowl of apples at the ready for snacking; Trump has bags of Lays potato chips.
Trump has made no secret that his diet is more processed than posh. He professed his love for McDonald’s to Anderson Cooper during a CNN town hall saying, “A fish delight, sometimes, right?” He celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a heaping taco bowl (total calories: 1,400). He has been known to down a bucket of KFC with a knife and fork. At a recent meeting at the White House, he forced Chris Christie to order meatloaf.
This is not the palate great chefs yearn to cook for.
Maybe that’s why no chefs seem to want the job. Washingtonian, Food & Wine, and Politico all reported that James Beard award–winner David Burke, who opened a restaurant inside Trump’s contentious D.C. hotel, was a leading candidate. Not so, Burke told Men’s Journal. “I think it’s prestigious and would be a great thing to have on your resume,” Burke said. “However, I don’t think the White House is a job for a chef of my creativity and caliber.”
It’s certainly not the most glamorous job in the culinary world. To be White House chef is to constantly be pulled in different directions. First, you must cater to the president’s cravings (Lyndon B. Johnson’s chef, the Frenchman Rene Verdon, quit because he said, “I got tired of cooking barbecue.”) But you also must be mindful of whether, say, the prime minister of Norway has dietary restrictions. You also have to feed everyone in the first family, whether it’s a picky 14-year-old (see Chelsea Clinton) or a first lady (Laura Bush) ready for her 5:30 a.m. breakfast of steel cut oats.
Trump isn’t the first president to have trouble finding a top chef. A similar food-world parlor game played out when Michelle and Barack moved to the White House in 2009. Stars like Oprah’s personal chef Art Smith and celebrity chefs Rick Bayless and Marcus Samuelsson were all floated as candidates. But none of them took the gig. Cristeta Comerford, who first came to the White House under George W. Bush, ended up remaining throughout Obama’s two terms and is still in the job now.
It’s not hard to see why a culinary hot shot would balk. What would you rather do: Open restaurants and appear on Top Chef or spend your nights burning Trump steaks for the commander-in-chief while he wanders the White House in his bathrobe? “I think a lot of chefs would have a problem with their egos in this job,” says John Moeller, White House executive sous chef from 1992 to 2005.
Moeller’s boss, Walter Scheib, learned that lesson on his first day on the job during Bill Clinton’s first term. Scheib and Moeller were in the kitchen when Chelsea Clinton had a hankering for pancakes. As Moeller started mixing up the batter, Scheib reached for a jar of pure maple syrup. Moeller, who had cooked for the Clintons for more than a year at this point, told him to get the Aunt Jemima instead but Scheib insisted on the superior ingredient. “He was fighting me, and I just told him to heat up the real maple syrup and serve it to her,” Moeller says. “After taking it upstairs, the butler came back down and asked, where’s her regular syrup?
“I turned to him and said, ‘Walter, the first thing you’ve got to remember, even though I know and you know a product is better, you can’t force things on them,’” Moeller says. “We serve at the pleasure of the President.”