West Coast Deserves More Love in State Department's New American Chef Corps

Categories: Talking Points

white house exec chef.jpg
White House/Sonya N. Hebert
White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford plates Quinoa Black Bean and Corn Salad in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House.
The full list of chefs participating in the U.S. Department of State's new Diplomatic Culinary Partnership initiative was announced a few days ago to much media fanfare. To be clear, I think it's fantastic that the State Department has partnered with the James Beard Foundation and created a roster of chefs to showcase the country's culinary traditions on the international stage. It's a big step forward for American food. I just wish the list included more chefs from the West Coast.

Of the 89 chefs, only 10 are based in California, Oregon, or Washington, with five representing the Bay Area (Bryant Terry, Michael Chiarello, Mourad Lahlou of Aziza, Emily Luchetti of Waterbar and Farallon, and Joanne Weir). That's not a high percentage for a region that's doing genuinely exciting things with American cuisine -- arguably more exciting than Washington D.C., whose chefs occupy roughly a third of the list.

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U.S. Department of State
Members of the American Chef Corps, sans chef's whites.
"This project will give us the chance to showcase the very best of what the American culinary community has to offer by assembling the American Chef Corps, a network of chefs dedicated to sharing our diverse culinary traditions by advising the State Department and participating in cooking demonstrations here in the United States and abroad," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a video announcing the program.

Mrs. Clinton's team has transformed the State Department's culinary program during her three and a half years in office, by insisting on local, seasonal ingredients; supplying visiting dignitaries with familiar snacks (hummus for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, for example); and bringing in celebrity and guest chefs instead of relying on tired catering services, like when they famously flew in Chinese-American chef Ming Tsai to cook for the vice president of China. The American Chef Corps is a natural extension of these efforts.

The list, which may expand in the future, consists partially of "Class of State Chefs" who have participated in Department of State culinary outreach programs or high-level government meals in the past -- it makes sense that they'd be drawn from a pool closer to home. But I want the world to see what the West Coast is doing with our amazing, fresh ingredients and diverse, international influences. New culinary traditions are being born here every day. It's time we started getting credit for them.

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