White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford has the distinct honor of not only being the first female executive chef at the White House, but also the first Filipina executive chef at the White House. With that kind of rare, double distinction you might think it’s all gone to her head, but chef Comerford is as pleasingly simple and unassuming as the fresh vegetable meals she prepares with from the White House Garden.
When asked to what she attributed her success, chef Comerford told Franco with spot.ph, “It’s faith and family and just really being grounded. Once that’s in line, I think everything else will come into place.”
Chef Comerford no doubt has bipartisan appeal since she resonated with First Lady’s of both political parties. Comerford was originally recruited by executive chef Walter Scheib, a Clinton appointee; but after Laura Bush fired Scheib becauseaccording to insidershe was schooled in the culinary tradition of Escoffier, she appointed Comerford the position. First Lady Michelle Obama must have liked what she saw because she retained Chef Comerford position. “Also the mom of a young daughter,”says Michelle Obama, “I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families”
Ms. Comerford was born in the Philippines and grew up in Sampaloc, Manila. After encouragement from her father to become a chef, she attended the University of the Philippines and majored in food technology, but before graduating, she immigrated to the U.S., and at 23 landed various hotel and restaurant cooking jobs in Chicago and Washington D.C., then spent six months studying as a chef in Vienna.
Simplicity, not fancy French trends is her overarching cooking style, but it’s the absence of affectation and pretense that First Lady Michelle Obama is drawn to. “The Obamas are into healthy eating and enjoy simple, well-made meals,”she told Inquirer Lifestyle. “They have certain preferences like steamed vegetables and brown rice that you’d want to do a lot”
“Trends come and go,” says Comerford. “A few years back, you had this all-molecular gastronomy. I think it’s really just simplicity and freshness. It’s so simple that whatever’s seasonal, whatever’s out there. Food should taste as good as the raw ingredient. You should be able to get spinach and not put anything on it because if it’s a good product, you cannot mess it up unless you’re really a bad chef. That’s really the main thing: choosing the best and most seasonal ingredient you could use. Preparation is secondary. Once you get all of those two things in there, I think you’re good to go.”
At home, the White House Executive Chef is reminded that she’s just another person. When her daughter told her she likes Dad’s spaghetti better, the First Chef thought, “I’m a White House chef and my daughter doesn’t like my spaghetti?”
We’d like to congratulate Chef Comerford for her achievements and her position at the White House.