Cristeta Comerford is the first woman (and first minority) to serve as White House Chef. Cooking was natural to her as both of her parents cooked at home. She likens preparing meals for a family with eleven children to preparing a banquet every day. Cristeta studied food technology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman but did not complete her degree because she emigrated to the United States at the age of 23.
After working in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Vienna, Austria she was hired as assistant chef at the White House by executive chef Walter Scheib. When Scheib retired ten years later, a search began for a new executive chef. There were 450 applicants. The finalists had to provide a tasting menu, but Cristeta Comerford, serving as interim executive chef, was too busy to prepare a tasting menu. It turned out that First Lady Laura Bush was watching her as she managed staff and created menus under the pressure of a state dinner for the Prime Minister of India.
After the First Lady hired her, Cristeta confesses, “I did Google myself at the time. And there were all these articles in different languages, and they all said the same thing, the White House chef is female. And it’s such a great feeling.”
Cristeta Comerford’s duties include preparing daily meals for the First Family and organizing elaborate state dinners. Some of the state dinners carry national import, as when she served the Chinese in 2011 (a five-course dinner for 200, served in 48 minutes), while the President was attempting to resolve economic issues with the country.
Her position has made her a celebrity. She belongs to the Club des Chefs des Chefs, an elite group of chefs who serve heads of state and share their secrets about the particular likes and dislikes of their bosses with one another. In 2010 she appeared on a special two-hour episode of Iron Chef America. Teamed with Bobby Flay, she defeated Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. In spite of her celebrity status, she finds time to serve as a church deacon, make humanitarian trips, and serve as a keynote speaker.
Cristeta admits that being “number one” as a woman is a “big thing.” She recounts an experience when she was working in Vienna. “One of the apprentices there approached me and said that I was the first female sous chef she has ever met. She was impressed to meet a woman sous chef, which she wanted to be.”
TRY HER RECIPES: (Found at the bottom of the web pages)
No Cream Creamed Spinach, Cauliflower Gratin, Broccoli Soup: http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/iron-chef-america/chef-cristeta-comerford.html
Sweet Potato Pie and Seared Lamb Loin on Chickpea Puree: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703529004576160360151590204
Shrimp, Chick and Vegetable Fried Rice, Also Halo-Halo (from Tagalog word for “mix”): http://www.letsmove.gov/blog/2013/05/17/white-house-kitchen-healthy-and-traditional-asian-american-and-pacific-islander-cuis