The White House will pass out poutine – that late-night Canadian beer sponge of French fries, cheese curds and gravy — at the state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife on Thursday night.
One of the country’s most popular exports, the greasy rib-sticker with ties to Quebec (and really late nights) will be spiffed up and scaled back in the hands of White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford. Her more formal take on the fast food involves shavings of smoked duck and cheese curds finished with red wine gravy and served on delicate wafer fries: a one-bite canapé.
No sooner was the menu announced than the Twitterverse lit up with reactions from America’s neighbors to the north, notoriously skeptical of outside interpretations of such an iconic dish. “With real cheese curds or no? THIS IS IMPORTANT!” tweeted the Globe and Mail’s Ann Hui.
Otherwise, the menu, relying on American ingredients from sea to shining sea, played it fairly straight. If one of the points of breaking bread with another country is to underscore shared values, this state dinner plans to do its duty. As Comerford put it at a preview Wednesday afternoon, “We share a lot of commonality in terms of ingredients. So it’s not a stretch for us to do something wonderful.”
Spring is checked off in practically every bite listed for the first course, a “casserole” featuring baked Alaskan halibut, asparagus, chanterelles and herbed butter in individual tureens.
The second course, a composed salad, sounds like a recipe borrowed from one of the trendy Washington restaurants that first lady Michelle Obama favors. The most fashion-forward of the courses, it will incorporate slivers of apricots roasted with ginger and cardamom and arranged with crystal lettuce, along with what a press release described as “young” arugula and “variegated” spinach.
Garnishing the greens: pine nut crisps and shaved Appalachian cheese from Galax, Va. The main course is a work horse featuring baby lamb chops, creamy garlicky baked potatoes and a fricassee of spring vegetables.
One of the three wines poured for the evening, the 2013 Pence Ranch chardonnay, has a D.C. connection. Sashi Moorman, the winery’s consultant, worked in Washington with restaurateur Peter Pastan at Obelisk before going on to become one of the hottest winemakers in Santa Barbara County.
For the dessert of maple pecan cake with butterscotch swirl ice cream, it will be New England, not Canadian, maple syrup; White House pastry chef Susan Morrison attributed the selection to “availability.” Indeed, one of the few shout-outs to Canada, beyond the poutine, is the mere splash of Canadian whisky on the lamb.
Three pastry cooks spent a full week making the last impression, “A View from the Mountain Top”: 22 trays of sweet little bears, tiny trees, golf-ball-size snowballs, golden raisin tarts — French-Canadians know the latter as tarte à la farlouche — and more displayed against a postcard-size photograph of the Rocky Mountains.
Together with the riff on poutine, the choice seems like a wink to an ally’s youth, vigor and interests. What else would you serve a politician who was once a nightclub bouncer and a snowboarding instructor?
The full menu, according to the White House:
First Course: Alaskan Halibut “Casseroles” with Cepes, Asparagus, Chanterelles, Baby Onions, and Lardon and Herbed Butter
Second Course: Roasted Apricot Galette with Appalachian Cheese,Heirloom Lettuces, Pine Nut Crisps. Wine pairing: Pence Chardonnay “Sebastiano” 2013
Main Course: Baby Lamb Chops with Yukon Potato Dauphinoise and Fricassee of Spring Vegetables. Wine pairing: Cliff Lede “High Fidelity” 2012
Dessert: Maple Pecan Cake with Cocoa Nib Wafer, Butterscotch Swirl Ice Cream. Wine pairing: Chateau Chantal Ice Wine 2013
Correction: A previous version of this post mistakenly said that a tweet from the CBC’s Kira Wakeam was about poutine, when it was in fact about maple syrup. This version has been corrected.