Inauguration Nation: The Chefs
This week, we chat with the chefs at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel to find out what they’re dishing up for the inauguration.
Lummert left Germany in 1967 after completing his apprenticeship, a requirement for German chefs. He went to Canada for two years before landing in Washington with a job at the Mayflower Hotel. He’s been with the Marriott company for 33 years and at Wardman Park since the Clinton administration.
Lummert’s right-hand man is Georg Feldschmied, the hotel’s executive sous chef. Feldschmied hails from Austria, where, after completing his culinary apprenticeship in 1990, he did a short stint in the military. From there, he bounced around hotel kitchens in Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Florida, and the Czech Republic for more than a decade. In the fall of 2001, he applied for a job at the Marriott Wardman Park, but the events of September 11 froze the hiring decision. The following March, Lummert called Feldschmied to see if he was still interested in the job; he began at Wardman Park a month later.
On a normal day, the pair are on the job for ten to 12 hours, spending most of their time planning menus and coordinating with the events staff. Less than 20 percent of the chefs’ time is spent actually cooking in the kitchen. They leave that to their staff of 78 cooks.
Wardman Park has six kitchens: two for the hotel restaurants, kitchens for cold and hot foods, a room-service kitchen, and a pastry kitchen. With 80 percent of the hotel dedicated to banquets, the staff usually executes more than one event at the same time. Smaller banquets—those with 100 to 150 people—can happen 30 at a time.
That’s a lot of events to juggle, food to cook, and meals to plate. “When there’s ten different banquets going on at the same time, you really have to be coordinated and make sure your timing’s exactly right,” says Lummert.
But the chefs say all bets are off during inauguration. While Lummert has cooked for two inaugurations and Feldschmied for one, this year’s celebration is proving exceptionally daunting: The hotel’s events straddle six days, double the party time allotted for President Bush’s last inauguration. What’s more, the hotel has lined up back-to-back events on each of those days, and on more than one occasion there will be several large-scale events happening at once. One group is carting in a celebrity chef to do the cooking—meaning extra coordination for Lummert and Feldschmied—while a group of 4,000 youth will be eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner for several days at the hotel. In all, Lummert estimates that Wardman Park will serve 49,000 meals in six days.
“We’re trying to plan as far out as we can,” says Feldschmied, who’s already begun placing massive orders for thousands of pounds of food. At this point, quantities are a guessing game. “Many events are still tentative or the menus aren’t yet planned,” he says. “How much food we need to order is really just a gut feeling.”
During inauguration, it’s all hands on deck in the kitchen. Lummert and Feldschmied will be cooking and chopping alongside a beefed-up staff of culinary students from as far away as Pennsylvania and borrowed kitchen staff from other Marriott hotels. They’ve already hired another pastry chef to help out, and they’ve recruited students from DC Central Kitchen’s culinary training program pitch in as well.
The biggest curve ball, they say, will be Secret Service. The president’s security team will do a security sweep of the kitchen, complete with bomb-sniffing dogs, and they’ll monitor all kitchen activity while Obama’s food is being prepared. Lummert recalls that during President George W. Bush’s first inauguration, the Secret Service cordoned off a hallway and wouldn’t let servers bring food to the dining room.
“We had to talk them into it,” he says. “We got it over there a little bit late, but it got there eventually.”
As with any event, food selection for inaugural soirees is largely up to the customer; Lummert and Feldschmied offer a fully customizable menu, and they’ll cook any cuisine from African to Asian to Caribbean.
Is there any food that won’t work for large groups? “Soufflé,” the chefs answer simultaneously. But Feldschmied adds the Marriott’s mantra: “If the customer wants it, we’ll do it.”