Foodie Diplomats Talk Turkey at the White House

International Visitor Leadership Program group talks culinary diplomacy with White House chefs.


Last month, Meridian hosted an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) group of chefs, foodies, and culinary experts from the Middle East. They came to the United States to discuss economic development, explore food culture, and of course, to sample great food. They dined at restaurants, visited markets, learned about America’s slow food movement, and even fit in time for a food truck tour.

Culinary diplomacy uses food and meals as an opportunity to create cross-cultural understanding. The State Department officially adopted culinary diplomacy as part of its public diplomacy programs in 2012, and even created a corps of chefs who represent the U.S. here and abroad. The American Chef Corps promotes cooking as a way for people to find common ground.

Two Corps members were on hand to greet the group for a tour when they visited the White House. Cristeta Comerford, Executive Chef, welcomed the group and Bill Yosses, Executive Pastry Chef, led them through the house with his Assistant Pastry Chef, Susan Morrison. The visitors were eager to discuss Michele Obama and how her healthy eating habits have changed the conversation about food.

One of the ways Yosses and Morrison make their pastries healthier is by substituting sugar with honey, made from hives in the White House gardens.

Another is by substituting a portion of the butter called for in pastry recipes with fruit puree, also grown in the backyard.

But the chefs don’t hold back any stops for the White House gingerbread house, which they begin planning in June. After deciding on a theme by the end of the summer, the kitchen starts building the foundation of the house in October. They assemble it in November, and finally move the house to the White House’s reception rooms in December. It usually weighs in at around 200-300 pounds.

On their way out, the group bumped into some dignitaries looking for treats, capping off a great morning in Washington.