The kitchen negotiations over what American foods will be served at the Williamsburg summit this weekend were almost as secret, seemed nearly as long-running and at times promised to be about as complicated as the political problems facing the leaders of the industrial world who will dine on the results.
No accord had been reached as the week began. Menu changes continued at least through Monday, five days before the first official meal will be served.
As the negotiations continued, involving coordinator Craig Claiborne of the New York Times, three of America's leading chefs and chefs of Colonial Williamsburg, the only thing certain, it seemed, was that the table would not be bare. Press spokesman Al Lauer of Colonial Williamsburg summed it up: "When they sit at the table and the food is brought in you can be sure the decision will have been made."
The food will be American; at Versailles it was agneau, in Williamsburg i will be lamb. That was decided months ago, when presidential assistant Micheal Deaver commissioned Claiborne to gather American chefs to prepare their specialties and granted The Times an exclusive story on the plans.
By May 10 the gingersnaps and brownies were in desert-book author Maida Heatter's freezer in Miami, and Colonial Williamsburg vice president Jim Miles and chef Pierre Monet were eating Cajun Popcorn -- fried crawfish, that is -- in K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans with chef Paul Prudhomme and Claiborne to talk over the menus.
But like most shuttle diplomacy, this was hush-hush. The Colonial Williamsburg press office was readily admitting that chefs might be coming from around the country but would not go so far as to say that they were going to cook. "It is my understanding they may or may not," Lauer elucidated.
A chefs' association meeting in Williamsburgh the night before had vented members' concern that local chefs were being ignored. Chefs privately worried that Colonial Williamsburg chef Monet would be reduced to "chopping onions and garlic." And where were the innovative White House chefs who had served Pierre Trudeau a coffeepot and demitasse cups fashioned of coffee ice cream? While Lauer was ready to applaud the concept of showing a broad sampling of American cuisine to foreign dignitiaries, he defended Colonial Williamsburg's kitchen staff: "We seem able to manage to turn out some high-quality meals."
Further negotiations brought a thaw in relations. A role was retained for the Colonial Williamsburg chefs, not only to support the imported chefs in producing their menus, but to make fried chicken, ham and a cold seafood buffet to accompany the lox and bagels and corned beef from Manhattan's Carnegie Deli at Sunday brunch. They would also prepare hors d'oeuvres before each dinner and supply an array of desserts to join Heater's key lime pie, cheesecake brownies and gingersnaps as the finale for the state dinner to be prepared Monday night by the chef of Los Angeles' Spago restaurant, Wolfgang Puck.
All this was revealed to Colonial Williamsburg as well as to the public a week ago when the secrecy was lifted. "I guess they were afraid we would leak it to our friends," said Susan Bruno of the Colonial Willimsburg press office. At last they were able to order the supplies.
The visiting chefs were a little further along. Heatter had first tackled the problem of the key lime pies: Key limes are not only scarce, they are not quite in season. Still, she and her husband, Ralph, telephoned everyone they could in Key West to spread the word and drum up the patroitism of key-lime growers. One sent his three, another his five; an Ethiopian produce vendor on Biscayne Boulevard drove 25 miles and back for five limes to repay his adopted country for being so good to him. By May 9 Heatter had enough limes for her dozen pies.
She had refined her classic crumb crust recipe; she also experimented with filling recipes and found the best is a combination of two -- a yolk-only filling, frozen several hours. She had developed new recipes for cheesecake brownies and gingersnaps, and she was elbow deep in the whipped cream controvery -- whether to put it on top or beside the pie on the plate. After days of indecision she compromised, draping it partly over the top and along the side. Her cheesecake brownie recipie was printed, and her Regal Brownie recipe was sent to other newspaper and wire services. Were Regal Brownies going to be served? "I'm supposed to say yes," said Heatter dutifully. Were they actually going to be served? Not at the summit. Miles called the Regal Brownies a "bonus recipe" and stated he was unaware of any but the cheesecake brownies being served.
Claiborne would say nothing for anyone else's publication except, "Just say I was quite mysterious about the whole thing, and that I acted totally confused." He agreed to confirm that the chefs would be Heatter, Puck and Prudhomme, "that's about it." In print later he added Zarela Martinez, a Mexican chef from El Paso who lives in New York, cooking a menu from nachos to polvorones for Monkey lunch and introducing "a great new specialty, butterflied filet mignons stuffed with chilies and cheese"; Leo Steiner of the Carnegie Deli with his double-smoked Gaspe salmon, cream cheese, bagels from "a little place in Queens" and corned beef and pumpernickel; Wayne Monk doing Lexington, N.C., barbecue for Saturday dinner; Tom Slough of Jackson, Miss., frying catfish and hush puppies for the same dinner.
minor flurries of controversy were kicked up over serving raw Long Island clams, which have been subject to contamination warnings in New York, but Miles was comfortable with the idea since he was using purveyors he had used for years. Then there were the Chesapeak Bay blue crabs to be served with ketchup and horseradish sauce, which Claiborne said was his family's tradition but Bay area people scoffed at. When Darryl Derk, manager of Cannon's Seafood, was consulted, he said, "Most Marylanders would eat crabe plain. People might serve lemon on it. Cocktail sauce ruins the taste of it."
The chefs are paying their, own way and in most cases coming alone. Prudhomme, who often takes his own crab-boil burners and 22-inch iron skillets on the road to do his blackened redfish, is also planning to bring "as many staff members as I can afford to . . . I would think it is going to be over a dozen," and 95 percent of the food he is to serve, plus $2,700 worth of California wine (not to mention the po' boys and pralines for keeping up the staff's strength on the plane). "We won't bring the flour and eggs and that kind of stuff," he added. The blackened redfish, his most famous dish, was to be served with his chicken and andouille gumbo and jalapeno cornbread along with the barbecue and catfish at Saturday's brunch. But changes began last Friday that left that menu without the redfish. By Monday that change was declared "inadvertent" and the redfish was reinstated.
Prudhomme will star at Sunday's dinner, the menu originally having been Cajun Popcorn and batter-fried crab claws, Redfish Czarina (named for his wife, Kay, but retitled officially as Broiled Refish with Oyster Sauce and Shrimp, which makes one wonder about relations with the Russians), Mint Julep Ice and roast muscovy ducks. For the ducks he created a new sauce by rendering the duck fat and grinding the crackings with caramelized onions and pecans browned with a little flour -- a duck pecan roux. For dessert he plans to construct small cabins built of chocolate to be demolished by pouring hot strawberry ice cream sauce over them. Then pralines, of course.
Like the Saturday brunch, Sunday's dinner menu was revised from above; Miles didn't know why, but said the changes had come from the summit committee. "All I know is what I am handed, he explained. Michael McManus of the summit committee said it was merely trimming of too-extensive menus and switching to options Claiborne had offered; Claiborne was unavailable for comment.
The crayfish and crab claws became "thin filet of beef gumbo soup" ("I don't known what that is," said Prudhomme when he heard he was to be making the dish; filet of beef is virtually unknown in Cajun cooking). Redfish Czarina was discarded for "oysters and ham in creole sauce" (another culinary mystery to Prudhomme). The ducks and chocolate cabins remained. Earlier this week Prudhomme responded to the new menu with, "Hopefully we'll get it changed to something real . . . It's the first time I get to do something directly for my president and I just want to do the best I can." He was also coping with the fact the dinner for 40 people had grown to 150.
The project is likely to cost Prudhomme "more than I can afford, I'm sure," he says. But this is the first time Prudhomme is cooking for a head of state, and he says, "I got a feeling it's gonne be fun." His staff, he admits, was more excited about cooking for the Rolling Stones.
Puck has cooked for a number of heads of state, the first time being when he peeled potatoes for Nikita Khrushchev in an Austrian hotel. He wanted to bring his pastry chef along to Williamsburg, but that was vetoed by the planners. And he's had a good deal of trouble pinning down his menu. "I'm worried about the wine," which is Deaver's domain, he said two weeks before next Monday night's state dinner. "To get Michael Deaver [on the telephone], it's easier to get the pope, I think."
His dinner is to be the big finale, and it, too, keeps changing. First he was serving American caviar on small potato halves; that changed into sally lunn melba toast ("Do you know anything about her bread?" asked Puck); he decided to change it back. Then the sliced rare saddle of lamb on a limestone lettuce and arugula salad: He wanted to put quail on the salad and serve the lamb as a main course. Too late; it was already in print. The lamb, which he is bringing from Sonoma, Calif., kept swinging from rack to saddle and the arugula to watercress and back; the cheese topping which was to be old American cheddar got translated in print to parmesan. Small matter, but feathers ruffled over the quail. Puck searched out a supply in Santa Barbara, then some were found in South Carolina.
Jim Miles of Colonial Williamsburg broke the news, though not to Puck, that the quail was to be chicken -- "someone in Summit advance decided on chicken." Furthermore, the Williamsburg chefs were going to make a clear soup of chicken and clams for Puck's dinner; "Wolfgang doesn't know that," said Miles last Thursday.
"They didn't tell me yet," Puck said that afternoon about the metamorphosis of quail to chicken. When he heard about the soup he blurted, "We're not going to have chicken and clams and then chicken again. It looks stupid." But diplomacy won the day once more: "If Claiborne says it's all right, it's all right", he reconsidered. A compromise was reached on the soup -- clear oyster soup without the repetitive chicken -- and the steamed quail turned into steamed chicken legs with wild rice and mushroom stuffing. And Puck went back to figuring out how to get all the plates down the ramp in warming boxes simultaneously from the Williamsburg Inn kitchen to the tent in the next-door courtyard where the heads of state would dine.
Puck, whose half-day visit to Washington on the way to scout the Williamsburg facilities included pilgrimages to the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, is excited about the project, but worries about two things: although he is one of a handful of American chefs to cook this all-American showcase of meals, he is not an American citizen; and with the heads of state suffering from jet lag, nonstop feasting and conferring, by the time they get to his Monday night dinner, "They're probably going to say, 'Give me some toast and tea.'"
One question remaining unanswered is how much this is all going to cost. The summit committee said there was no specific budget, Colonial Williamsburg claimed to have no idea, so the person left to ask was Claiborne. What was his budget, in this time of trimming and slashing? "I don't ask. I think it is quite vulgar to discuss money. I'm a good southern boy and I have my standards."
Whatever the cost, the hope is that the industrial world's heads of state will at last discover culinary America.
Here are some of the recipes they will be exploring: TOM SLOUGH'S HUSH PUPPIES (Makes 36) 1 1/2 cups white or yellow cornmeal 4 teaspoons flour 2 teaspoons baking powder Salt to taste 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 cup grated onion 1 egg, beaten 1 cup rapidly boiling water Fresh corn oil to cover hush puppies
Combined cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, grated onion and egg and blend well. Add the water, rapidly stirring. The water must be boiling.
Heat oil to 370 degrees. Drop mixture by rounded spoonfuls into the oil. Cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. ZARELA MARTINEZ CHILES CON QUESO STEAK (Steak stuffed with chilies and cheese) (4 servings) 2 2-ounce poblano chilies 1 small onion 2 tablespoons corn, peanut or vegetable oil 1 small clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced 6 ounces white or yellow cheddar cheese, cut into a piece about 1-inch thick 4 6-ounce slices filet mignon Salt to taste and freshly ground pepper to taste
Put the chilies over a gas flame or heat them over charcoal, turning often, unwil the outsides are well burnt or charred, about 5 to 7 minutes. Dampen a cloth and add the chilies. Wrap them in the cloth and let cool. Remove the chilies and peel. Discard the stems, veins and seeds. Cut the chilies into fine shreds.
Peel the onion and cut it lengthwise into strips. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic, Cook, stirring briefly. The onion must remain crisp. Add the chilie strips and stir. Remove from the heat.
Cut the cheese lengthwise into thin slices. Off the heat add the slices to the saucepan and stir to blend. Do not cook.
Slice each piece of meat through the center sandwich fashion, but without cutting totally through. You want to "butterfly" the pieces. Open up the meat on a flat surface and pound lightly with a flat mallet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Spoon equal portions of the cheese mixture onto the side of each opened-up piece of meat. Fold over the second side to enclose the filling. Press around the edges with the fingers to seal.
Grill beef on a charcoal or gas-fired grill. Cook 2 minutes on one side and turn. Cook 2 minutes on the second side, or until done to taste. PAUL PRUDHOMMES BLACKENED REDFISH (4 servings)
This procedure should be attempted only in a very well-ventilated place, and great care needs to be taken with the intensely heated pans. 2 teaspoons salt (optional) 3/4 teaspoon red pepper 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 2 teaspoons paprika 8 skinless, boneless fillets of fish, preferably redfish, pompano or tilefish, about 1/4 pound each*
1/2 cup melted butter
Combine the salt, red pepper, white pepper, black pepper, thyme, basil, oregano and paprika in a mixing bowl.
Dip the fish pieces on both sides in melted butter. Sprinkle both sides with the seasoned mixture. Heat a black iron skillet over high heat about 5 to 10 minutes or longer (the skillet cannot get too hot) until it starts to lighten in color on the bottom.
Add two to four fish pieces and pour about a teaspoon of butter on top of each piece. The butter may flame. Cook over high heat about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn the fish and pour another teaspoon of butter over each piece. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes. Continue until all the fillets are cooked. Serve immediately.
*Redfish and pompano are ideal for this. If tilefish is used, split the fillets in half. Place the fillet on a flat surface, hold knife parallel to the surface and split in half through center from one end to the other. The weight of the fish may vary from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, depending on your skillet, but they must not be more than about 1 1/2 inches thick. JALAPENO CORNBREAD (10 or more servings) 2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably stone ground) 2 cups canned cream-style corn 2 cups (1/2 pound) grated sharp cheddar cheese 1 cupt (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 teaspoons 1 cup buttermilk 1/4 to 1/2 cup drained, canned chopped green chilies 4 eggs, lightly beaten 2 teaspoon baking soda Salt
Combine cornmeal, corn and cheese in mixing bowl and blend. Add 1 cup melted butter, buttermilk, chilies, eggs, baking soda and salt to taste and mix thoroughly.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in each of 2 9-inch cast-iron skillets or heavy 9-inch baking pans until hot but not browned. Divide batter between skillets, smoothing with spatula. Bake at 375 degrees until done, about 45 minutes. WOLFGANG PUCKS SADDLE OF LAMB SALAD (6 appetizer servings) 1 saddle of lamb, about 2 pounds Salt and pepper 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried 6 tablespoons virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 teaspoons mustard, preferably dijon-style 2 quarts loosely packed salad greens such as limestone lettuce, including some bitter ones such as arugula or watercress 2 tablespoons finely grated aged cheddar
Remove surface fat from lamb and arrange meat on a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, herbs and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place in 450-degree oven and roast at 450 degrees for 25 minutes for very rare, or until done to taste. Remove from oven and let stand in a warm place for 10 minutes while you make the salad.
Combine vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper; whisk in gradually 4 tablespoons oil. Toss with greens in a large bowl and arrange on 6 salad plates.
Slice lamb lengthwise into long, thin slices and arrange in a star shape on top of greens. Sprinkle each serving with 1 teaspoon cheddar and serve. MAIDA HEATTERS KEY LIME PIE (Makes a 9-inch pie) For the crust: 1 1/4 cups gram-cracker crumbs 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg Dash of allspice 3 ounces unsalted butter, melted For the filling: 4 egg yolks 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk 1/2 cup key lime juice (substitute persian lime or lemon juice, adding grated rind of 1 large or 2 small limes or lemons)
For crust, mix all ingredients. Line the pie plate with foil and fold edges of foil over the rim of the plate. Distribute crumb mixture evenly and loosely over the sides, then the bottom of the lined plate. Press crust firmly and evenly on the sides, pushing it up from the bottom to form a rim slightly raised over the edge. Be careful that top of crust is not too thin. Press remaining crumbs evenly and firmly over bottom. There should be no loose crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, or until edges are very lightly browned. Cool, then freeze at least 1 hour, until frozen solid. Remove from freezer, raise edges of foil and carefully lift foil with crust from the plate. Gently peel away foil a bit at a time, supporting crust with other hand. Support bottom with spatula or knife and gently ease crust back into plate.
To make the filling, beat yolks lightly to mix. Add condensed milk, then gradually mix in juice (and rind if not using key limes). Pour into crumb crust. It will make a pale lemon-colored thin layer, fluid at first but thicker on standing. Freeze for two hours before serving; it will be semi-firm. Serve with sweetened whipped cream if desired.