A Quick History about the White House Executive Chef

A Quick History about the White House Executive Chef

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Virginia Woolf once wrote, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” That’s especially true for the president of the United States. If you’re going to run a country without losing your mind, then you’re going to need some really good food to get you through the day. Of course, that begs a simple yet significant question. Who’s in charge of putting dinner on the White House table?

Well, that task belongs to the White House executive chef. Since 1961, only seven people have held this prestigious position. Working with a surprisingly small staff, the executive chef is the one who keeps the first family healthy and happy. Plus, when an emperor or prime minister shows up for a swanky White House party, the chef has to make sure all those powerful palates are sufficiently sated.

Sure, it’s incredibly stressful, but when it comes to culinary accomplishments, there’s no job more important than cooking for the president of the United States.

Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and staff, 2005. By The White House (Shealah Craighead) [Public domain], via

As you might imagine, applying for the position of head White House chef is a pretty competitive endeavor. Cooks from the nation’s best restaurants and hotels send in their resumes, and if you’re singled out from the pack, it’s time to impress the first lady.

Chef Henry Haller got the gig one day after interviewing with Lady Bird Johnson, and Walter Scheib won the position by preparing a meal for Hillary Clinton. Similarly, Cristeta Comerford had to come up with a menu to impress Mr. and Mrs. Bush. (Past that, the White House is kind of secretive about the selection process, so we’re all a bit in the dark when it comes to impressing the first family.)

If you’re lucky enough to land the gig, the job starts at 6 a.m. each day, ends well after midnight, and there’s no pay for overtime. The chef takes home somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000 a year, and they earn every single penny. In addition to feeding the first family, the executive chef is also in charge of preparing meals for White House parties and important banquets. Depending on the evening, the chef might be cooking for A-list celebrities, national heroes, foreign dignitaries, or even royalty.

As part of the job, the executive chef oversees three separate White House kitchens. The one located on the second floor is for the president and his family. (The food here is all paid for by the president, and that goes for the meals served at private parties, as well.) Head down to the ground floor, and you’ll find Kitchen #2, which is dedicated to big banquets. And underneath the main level, there’s Kitchen #3 [PDF], which is where all the pastries are made. While the executive chef isn’t in charge of the desserts, she does coordinate menus with the executive pastry chef. A sous chef takes care of the Mess Kitchen for staff in residence.

While the numbers have fluctuated over the years, the present-day executive chef only has a staff of about five people. Naturally, during large events, extra chefs are shuttled in to help feed all the guests. But the State Department also lends a helping hand by sending…


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