The newest tactic the American State Department will use in diplomacy with foreign politicians and dignitaries involves appealing to their sense of taste. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has begun working with some of the nation’s best chefs to offer their services to foreign ambassadors and use their culture and cuisine to bring them together.
On Friday, the State Department will induct over 80 chefs into the first ever American Chef Corps, a group of food experts that will represent America in foreign countries, prepare meals for visiting dignitaries and host international culinary experts in their kitchens. Forging educational programs will also be a goal of this elite group of chefs, as culinary experts from 25 countries prepare to visit Washington, New York, San Francisco, the Midwest and New Orleans to gain insight into American food culture in a special State Department program.
Secretary Clinton has long believed in the power of food in addressing diplomats from foreign countries. This new initiative is part of her new “smart power” philosophy of using “every diplomatic tool at our disposal,” said U.S. Chief of Protocol Caprica Penavic Marshall. Marshall was White House Secretary when Clinton was still first lady, and it was there they began to focus on the importance of food in person-to-person diplomacy.
Previously the United States focused heavily on French food and expensive catering menus for its overseas guests. Now each guest is getting a degree of individual attention from the State Department. In February a Chinese-American chef named Ming Tsai was recruited to prepare a special luncheon for Chinese Vice Presidents Xi Jinping. The chef created a new Chinese and American “fusion” menu including an “eight treasured rice packet” with many flavors and gingered Swiss chard. Similarly, to serve British Prime Minister David Cameron, Chef April Bloomfield was recruited, owner of New York restaurant Spotted Pig and born in England.
“By showcasing the best of American cuisine and creativity, we can show our guests a bit about ourselves,” Marshall said. “Likewise, by incorporating elements of our visitor’s culture, we can demonstrate respect and a desire to connect and engage.” Appealing to a foreign ambassador’s specific country of origin shows that the United States actively cares about other cultures.
The chefs that have already prepared special meals or served in a diplomatic program are being given the title of State Chefs, as well as a navy jacket with the American flag and their names embroidered in gold. Chef Jose Andres earned his by cooking for the 50th anniversary of the department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Andres stood out by serving Louisiana Gulf Shrimp as a sign of support to the fishermen still struggling from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Several other chefs including two former Top Chef Contestants will be honored.
Chef Mike Isabella was featured on Top Chef, originates from Washington and will be the first State Chef appointed to represent American food culture abroad. Originally travelling to Greece and Turkey to research flavors for an upcoming restaurant, he will now visit embassies and restaurants as a culinary ambassador as well.
“I just think food is the best way to bring people together,” he said. “Even if we don’t understand what we’re saying across the table from each other, we understand how happy we are when we’re sitting down together.”
Raising food concerns as a foremost topic can help to change the current dialogue about hunger and food consumption. Hunger levels are high internationally and within this country, as well as obesity and food sourcing concerns. Chef’s can now take a stand and contribute to these discussions in a positive manner.