Reprinted from yesterday's late edition.
The scene before Monday night's White House dinner:
Chef Haller is nervous.
It's his first White House state dinner for the Carter administration and he thinks his career in the Executive Mansion's main kitchen depends on how he executes his first formal meal for 100 guests.
But Henry Haller's nerves are not visible, except when he paces up and down. To the naked eye all seems calm and serene in the kitchen at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.
Haller, assistant chief Hans Raffert and pastry chef Heinz Bender are eating their dinner around a white formica table in the corner of the kitchen. The base for the gumbo is simmering on the back of the stove; the rice has been sauteed with the onions, the asparagus and chicken are cooked and await a final heating.
7 o'clock - The cream sauce for the chicken is bubbling away. Haller is mixing it with a 4-foot-long aluminum paddle.
"In Europe," he says, "the apprentice would do this."
But not in the White House kitchen, where three chefs plus a salad girl and steward, prepare a dinner for 100 or more.
7:10 - The shimp goes into the gumbo. "Maybe in the South they like it a little hotter," Haller says. "But it can't be eccentric for a White House dinner."
Frankie Blair, the kitchen steward, is the "official taster" of the soup. "If I don't fall over," he says, "it goes upstairs."
7:25 - Out comes the rice, colored bright yellow with saffron. The slow hum of the convention oven is the only noise than can be heard.
7:40 - The pace has picked up slightly. The sound of pots being washed and the grapes for the sauce sizzling in hot butter on the stove has cut the quiet.
7:55 - The gumbo goes up to the pantry on one of the dumbwaiters.
A butler comes in and says the guests are ready 10 minutes ahead of schedule, which is just what Haller and Raffert, who have 17 years in the White House between them, expected.
"You get a sixth sense about these things," Raffert says. But maybe Raffert knows because the First Family has been eating dinner promptly at 7 every night.
7:59 - The asparagus are put on trays, hot melted butter dribbled over and then placed in heated serving carts. The saffron rice, decorated with rounds of pimiento is layered beside the capon; the capon covered with a white grape sauce.
"See," Haller says, "how the rice is not stuck together. There are a few things worse than sticking rice, but I wouldn't want to talk about them."
Upstairs in the pantry there is a little more noise from the clanking of the dishes as they are being washed. John Ficklin, the maitre d' tells the waiters to hurry it up but it's not necessary: Everyone knows his job.
9:15 - Haller is standing around kidding with Raffert. The only other noise in the kitchen is the hum of the fans.Upstairs the toasts are under way and another White House dinner is over.