City Desk

The White House Chef: A Little Perspective from Someone Who Actually Knows About the Job

It seems that the wave of excitement over Barack Obama's election wishes to wash away anything and everything associated with W. Believe me, I can relate. But with regards to the speculation over the next White House chef, I think we need to get a grip. And who better to provide a hand rail than Palena's Frank Ruta, a former White House executive sous chef and our winner this year for Best Chef?

"Boy, next White House Chef...did I miss something?" Ruta writes via e-mail when I raise the topic with him. "The Executive Chef doesn't usually change with administrations. At least that has been the case in the past. My feeling is that Chef [Cristeta] Comerford will stay on in her current position."

I e-mailed back and asked Ruta to provide a little more insight on the politics of selecting and/or changing White House chefs.

His response was, as always, meticulously detailed:

"Typically, that position does not change with administrations, however, each administration can make a change if they want to. Usually, and it was my understanding that for continuities sake, The Executive Chef stays the same. It may however become a regular appointed position each time a new administration comes in. Here is the history from my time there:

I was hired in 1979 by Mrs. Carter. At the time, the Executive Chef was Henry Haller who had been there, in that position, since the Johnson administration. He eventually retired in 1987 (Reagan Administration). He was replaced By Jon Hill, who really flopped. Mrs. Regan decided to make a change and promoted Hans Raffert to Executive Chef and me to Executive Sous Chef. Hans had also been there since the Johnson Administration as Henry Haller's Sous Chef, and stayed on as Jon Hill's Sous Chef. I left in 1991, and was replaced by Pierre Chambrin. Once Hans retired, I think toward the end of the Bush Administration, Chambrin moved up to Executive Chef and stayed on through the beginning of The Clinton Administration. Mrs. Clinton wanted to make a change and had asked for the selection process to begin. I was also asked to throw my hat in the ring and prepared a luncheon for her and her staff.  Walter Scheib was eventually hired in 1994 and stayed on through the Bush administration. We heard rumors of a falling out, but who knows why, he was replaced by his sous chef Cristeta Comerford..and that is where we stand. FYI, Roland Mesnier the Pastry Chef was hired shortly after me in 1980 and stayed on until he retired a couple of years ago. So you see, there was usually stability there and it is only recently that changes have become more frequent. Those changes were not due to a change of administration, rather other factors were involved. All of this may open the door for a routine change. Who knows. My feeling is that if the person there is doing the job, and I have a feeling she is, no change will be made. 

I have to also add that I don't really know what is going on there and that a change may or may not be in the works."

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