If Frank Ruta’s 11 years in the White House kitchen taught him anything — other than to cook like a monster — it taught him the art of self-effacement. The Palena chef and owner has never been one to gossip, talk smack or even toot his own horn. The guy probably can’t name a single publicist in town, at least not without spotting him a first or last name.
So when Ruta wants to tell a story, you tend to listen. Like on Wednesday, opening day of the Association of Food Journalists conference, when Ruta was one of four chefs on the “Cooking in the White House” panel. Someone asked the current and former White House chefs if they had ever prepared a dish that the First Family actively disliked.
Ruta spoke up.
Ruta and everyone else in the White House kitchen, of course, knew that George H.W. Bush hated broccoli. It was minor news in 1990 when the president banned the cruciferous vegetable from the White House and Air Force One. But as Ruta noted at the AFJ conference, when George Bush was out of town, the first lady sometimes asked for foods that the president detested. Like broccoli.
One day, Ruta said, he prepared a broccoli dish for Barbara Bush. He couldn’t remember the exact preparation, but he remembered the first lady loved it enough to suggest that even her husband would like it. ”Make that for him,” Ruta recalled her saying.
So he did.
The president “just did not care for it one bit,” Ruta said drawing out each word as if still browbeating himself with every syllable.
“Maybe she was setting me up,” the chef added. “I don’t know.”