For nearly 11 years, Walter Scheib has worn the nation's top toque as executive chef at the White House.
But now, according to the White House, it's coming off.
"Walter has resigned to pursue other opportunities," said Laura Bush's press secretary, Gordon Johndroe, yesterday in response to a reporter's call. "Mrs. Bush appreciates his service during their first term and his years before that, and wishes him well." Asked if the resignation was effective immediately, Johndroe said, "He's already gone."
"I wouldn't say that's official," said Scheib, reached at his Virginia home late yesterday afternoon. "I was at work today, and I will be at work tomorrow."
So who's cooking dinner tonight? "I misspoke," Johndroe called to say last night. "He's still there."
Noting that "we all serve at the pleasure of the house and the first lady," Scheib said he was "still having a good time." Asked in the initial phone call if Scheib had been asked to leave, Johndroe repeated that the chef had "resigned to pursue other opportunities. That is the information." No new chef has been hired, said Johndroe, adding, "I think we will move with all due speed to find a good replacement."
Hired by Hillary Clinton in 1994 from the exclusive Greenbrier resort and directed to showcase American cuisine and indigenous wine, Scheib has created a sophisticated contemporary style blending regional and ethnic tastes and fresh seasonal ingredients. As both the personal chef to the Bush family and the architect of all entertainment menus, from dinner parties for family friends to state dinners for hundreds, he has supervised a full-time staff of five and a part-time staff of about 20.
His menu for the Bushes' last state dinner, honoring the Kenyan president in October 2003, featured a salad of avocado and heirloom tomato in toasted cumin dressing, a first course of grilled halibut, bay scallop risotto and lobster sauce and a main course of roasted rack of lamb, sweet potato flan and vegetables.
At the beginning of President Bush's second term, the West Wing has made headlines with Cabinet appointments, but just as surely the East Wing is quietly being reshaped. Mrs. Bush has indicated that she and her husband intend to do more formal entertaining during their second term. During their first four years they hosted only four state dinners, the same number President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush hosted in his first six months in office.
Cathy Fenton, who resigned as social secretary, has been replaced by Lea Berman, who served in that capacity for Lynne Cheney before going to work for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Unlike previous social secretaries, Berman is a wealthy hostess herself. She and her husband, Wayne, a former assistant secretary of commerce under Robert Mosbacher, purchased Paul Mellon's 13,000-square-foot Embassy Row mansion in 2000 for $4.5 million, then let the National Symphony Orchestra use it as its fundraising designer show house. Their neighbors are the Clintons and Leo Daly, architect of the avant-garde Italian Embassy nearby.
"Both of them just love politics," says Marlene Malek, a Kennedy Center board member, who attended a Berman dinner in honor of White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. "They do small dinners, and they're absolutely lovely. They entertain beautifully. They're very understated."
Wayne Berman made a fortune as the chief lobbyist for the sugar moguls Jose and Alfonso Fanjul, has been an active Republican fundraiser and contributor, giving nearly $150,000 over the last four years to Republican candidates, according to federal records. He raised at least $300,000 for President Bush in 2000 and 2004.
Andi Ball, who was Mrs. Bush's only aide when she was first lady of Texas, left her position as chief of staff recently. Her replacement is Anita McBride, who had been the White House liaison at the State Department and was director of White House personnel for President Bush's father. She is married to Tim McBride, who served the former President Bush as personal assistant and now is Freddie Mac's chief lobbyist.
Asked what other staff changes might be underway in the East Wing, Johndroe said, "None that I am aware of."
Staff writers Roxanne Roberts and Judith Weinraub contributed to this report.