With Henry Haller, president of the Club des Chefs des Chefs, retiring as executive chef of the White House, much of the talk during the club's week-long tour of the U.S. was about his replacement. A rampant rumor was that Dean Fearing, chef at Dallas' Mansion at Turtle Creek, was the hot contender. Officially, the East Wing press office would neither confirm nor deny anything in regard to the job before the choice was announced, but one East Wing spokesperson said Fearing had been recommended for the job, but, "I'm afraid he was really never a candidate. This was really generated by himself."

Other White House sources have emphasized that the whole selection process has been very secretive; at least 20 candidates have been ushered through the kitchen but none has been introduced to the staff who might be working with him. That is routine at the White House; when a new housekeeper was hired, none of the household staff knew anything until the day she started work, said a White House source. There has been pressure to choose a chef as soon as possible, since he needs security clearance and a break-in period with Haller. Haller is committed to leaving October 1 to promote his book, "The White House Family Cookbook" (to be published by Random House in November), and consult with Cointreau and Grand Union supermarkets. The White House has also been looking for a replacement for First Family Chef Frank Ruta, who has already left to work in Italy and then hopes to work in the great kitchens of France.

Rumor has it that only American chefs have been considered as executive chef this time around, although sous chef Hans Raffert was automatically a candidate. Haller is Swiss, and his predecessor was a Frenchman, Rene' Verdon. Candidates have come to the White House for interviews from as far as Florida and California. The problems with hiring a prominent American chef, though, is that the salary, about $58,000, are none too attractive to chefs who can make much more in the private sector, and the kitchen staff at the White House is so small that the chef himself sometimes has to pitch in and peel potatoes and wash pots.