Walter S. Scheib III was Hilary Clinton’s answer to Jacqueline Kennedy. Though J.F.K’s glamorous widow had long since left the White House, she had set the standard for fine dining in the nation’s home – and it was European. Mrs. Clinton’s mandate for her new chef was a challenge – she wanted to see contemporary American cuisine celebrated in her kitchen.
Over the next 11 years, Walter would do exactly as he was commanded and in exchange he would have the honour of serving not one but two American Presidents and their many distinguished guests, a list that included the Emperor and Empress of Japan, Mother Theresa, Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela.
Today, Chef Scheib’s tales are even more popular than his ginger-poached lobster with red curried potato soup (Chelsea Clinton’s favourite). Having founded his company The American Chef (www.theamericanchef.com) he travels the world sharing his memories and serving the dishes he once cooked for the first family. His narrative is that of a privileged insider, and Scheib will be the first to admit the position came at the cost of his personal freedom, time with his family and even his menus.
The executive chef during the Reagan years was sacked when he refused to lower himself to cooking a hamburger, and it’s a mistake that Chef Scheib has taken pains to avoid. “When you work at the White House, you leave your ego and your politics outside,” he says, “it’s not Walter Scheib’s restaurant, it’s George W. Bush’s home.”