At White House seder dinner, guest cooks broaden the menu

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 15, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House. (Pete Souza/ White House)

Tuesday night’s Passover Seder at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was an all-adult affair, with many of the same guests who attended the Obamas’ first official White House Seder in 2009. The Maxwell House Haggadah service was much abbreviated, and, once again, most of the dishes were cooked by the White House kitchen staff and executive chef Cristeta Comerford, from family recipes of the attendees.

But this year, a secret culinary detail was called in – not celebrity chefs, but Washington caterer Vered Guttman, who writes the Modern Manna blog for Haaretz.com, and filmmaker Susan Barocas, a food aficionado who helped launch the Jewish Food Experience in 2012.

“I was shocked by how modest the White House kitchen is,” Guttman says. “Everything was in order and prepped for us. The chef was so calm and sweet. I was impressed with her research. She put a slice of carrot on each portion of gefilte fish and got the Seder plate just right.”

The two women were recruited about 10 days before the event, by Matt Nosanchuk, director for outreach at the National Security Council. They consulted about the menu and each contributed a dish: a salad of quinoa cooked in coconut milk with Tuscan kale and roasted yams from Guttman, and chicken with preserved lemon and green olives from Barocas.

“The White House was looking to expand the flavors, as I understand it,” Barocas says. “That’s why I chose a Moroccan dish – one that I made for my own Seder on Monday night.”

The rest of the menu included haroset, matzoh ball soup, several side dishes, beef brisket and three desserts.

On the Obamas’ guest list: White House senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett; Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago Director David Axelrod; former White House staffer Eric Lesser and Alison Silber; former Obama personal aide Reginald L. Love; former White House staffer Lisa Kohnke; State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki; former White House videographer Arun Chaudhary and Laura Moser; Obama friends Cookie Offerman and Kelly Schaefer; senior adviser to the first lady Melissa Winter; chief of staff of the Huffington Post Herbie Ziskend; former first lady chief of staff Susan Sher and Juge Neil Cohen; deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes and Ann Norris; Obama friend Eric Whitaker and Joan Maas; and Nosanchuk.

“This is clearly a tradition that has great meaning to the Obamas and their closest friends and associates,” Barocas says.

Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes: washingtonpost.com/recipes.
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