Last in an occasional series about the eating habits of the presidential candidates.
Say what you will about the trustworthiness of Hillary Clinton. The candidate who could make history as the first female U.S. president has been nothing but transparent about the fact that she’s a hothead.
“Sriracha, Tabasco, tomatillo or what?” a participant of a town hall hosted by “Good Morning America” asked Clinton in April.
“I have a collection of all that and many more,” she told the fellow fire-breather. “I started using hot sauce back in 1992, because I read an article that said it would help my immune system stay healthy.” Ever since her husband’s debut presidential campaign, she’s stayed on message. “So far, so good!”
Clinton’s liquid fire of choice is Ninja Squirrel, a brand of sriracha available at Whole Foods Market. But she also relies on a fresh hot pepper every day, she told NPR, crediting the ingredient for “one of the reasons I’m so healthy, and I have so much stamina and endurance.” (Science backs her up. Chilies are rich in folic acid and vitamins A, C and E; eating hot sauce also triggers the release of stress-lowering endorphins.)
A passion for hot sauce, painful but curative, signals someone who doesn’t mind being tested by a little fire. Clinton’s potent habit also gives her some food cred. Not that she needed it; an examination of her long record of public service turns up an astute eater.
As first lady, she sought out chef Walter Scheib from the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia to highlight the best of food and drink, ending a run of cooking that Scheib once referred to as “quasi-French, quasi-California.” (Not that every bite from then on was made from scratch; the first lady had the chef stock Boca Burgers, made with soy protein, for snacks.) The rise of low-fat diets in the 1990s saw healthful-food guru Dean Ornish get an invitation to the White House to tweak the presidential menu. In 2000, the entertainer in chief published some of her favorite recipes in a lush coffee-table book, “An Invitation to the White House.”
As secretary of state, Clinton challenged her staff to step up the department’s food game in ways minor and major. On her watch, welcoming snacks of spreads, flatbreads and nuts were set out for possibly jet-lagged visitors who might have not seen food in a while. With Clinton’s blessing, U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall initiated the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, which turned chefs into envoys for their government. And just as she did when she was a senator from the Empire State, Clinton kept apples in her office at the State Department — from New York, naturally.
The presumptive Democratic nominee makes no pretenses to being an Ina Garten.
“I’m a lousy cook,” Clinton has said, “but I make pretty good soft scrambled eggs.” (The operative word “soft” implies a dash of culinary sophistication.) Indeed, when her daughter, Chelsea, got sick in the early days of the Clinton administration, she requested her mother’s signature — which caused a stir in the White House kitchen when the first lady asked for cooking utensils and eggs for use in the upstairs residence. “Just give them to her,” Marshall, then Clinton’s aide, recalls telling staffers.
On the road, Clinton tries to keep off the weight she lost last year by eating as healthfully as possible. Breakfast might be simply fruit or sometimes scrambled eggs, washed back with coffee — black when she’s really tired, otherwise with milk. The plates of cookies and snacks put in front of Clinton at the intimate campaign stops she favors go untouched by the woman who hopes to become the next commander in chief. But she likes to treat her entourage to heaps of food — pies, cookies, cakes — from the locally owned eateries she finds herself in on the trail.
References to food have sometimes gotten Clinton in a pickle. She ruffled feathers in some quarters when she let it be known that her career took precedence over homemaking.
“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession,” she said in 1992. In April, she was accused of pandering to African Americans when she told the hosts of “The Breakfast Club,” a hip-hop radio show, that she keeps hot sauce in her purse. Critics linked her comment to Beyoncé’s hit song “Formation,” sung at the Super Bowl and containing the lyrics, “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag.” Never mind that Clinton has been into capsaicinoids for almost 25 years.
Home or away, associates say, she prefers to eat what’s local. At the Iowa State Fair, for instance, she opted for pork chop on a stick. She ate three bites in public, the Associated Press reported, then finished the rest in private. Like a lot of famous faces, Clinton is reluctant to eat in front of members of the media. She broke her own rule in New York at Mikey Likes It, an ice cream parlor, when she took a bite of a “Victory” sundae — built with a chocolate waffle, Oreo ice cream, milk chocolate ice cream, chocolate-covered marshmallows and chocolate whipped cream — even after a reporter asked about the confection’s calorie count. (She playfully booed him.) More recently, in Pittsburgh, she made like a local and dispatched a pastrami sandwich at Primanti Bros.
Also on Clinton’s list of likes: hummus, fish, and the flavors of India and Mexico. After her marathon testimony before a House committee last year, she invited her team to her residence for an Indian spread: black cod and biryani from the four-star Rasika in Penn Quarter and green chili chicken from its sibling downtown, the Bombay Club.
Clinton’s mantra seems to be “everything in moderation, including moderation.” She likes a glass of wine or craft beer, say those who trail her, and does not subscribe to her husband’s “vegan-ish” — her word — diet.
In an interview last year with the Skimm, a daily newsletter geared toward young women, Clinton said: “I can’t possibly be as disciplined as the Obamas. I just can’t. I mean, I’ve had meals with them — they are so disciplined.”
Should the former FLOTUS become POTUS, Goldfish crackers, among her self-described vices, could fill White House snack jars. Another of her guilty pleasures is anything chocolate (dark, thank you). Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier prided himself on never repeating a dessert for the first family.
“I didn’t want them to get bored with my work,” Mesnier recalled.
At the first lady’s request, he made an exception, baking a mocha cake layered with coffee buttercream and walnuts at least 20 times in eight years. On the campaign trail, the former secretary of state indulges in chocolate-covered almonds. “Healthy and slightly naughty,” says Marshall, now a volunteer with the campaign.
Sheep farmers will have a friend in the White House if Clinton returns. Lamb is her favorite meat, a detail that proved fortuitous for Scheib when he auditioned for the top cooking job at the White House. His tryout menu featured pecan-crusted lamb with a morel sauce, a dish even more apt to impress the spice-loving first lady given its accompaniment: sweet potatoes spiked with red curry. She cleaned her plate.
Del Frisco’s Grille got it right when the national chain rolled out a Hillary burger recently. Billed as “classified,” the sandwich features a patty of ground lamb, tzatziki and (surprise, surprise) hot sauce.
Food workers might also relate to Clinton, who in her youth had a job “sliming” salmon at an Alaska cannery. During her maiden run for the Democratic nomination, she told talk-show host David Letterman that the summer gig put her in hip boots and an apron, with a spoon for cleaning out the insides of the fish.
Clinton called the gig the “best preparation for being in Washington that you can possibly imagine.”