Food

Four Takeaways From the Trumps’ First State Dinner Menu

No steak this time
Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Emmanuel Macron, and Brigitte Macron at dinner on the Eiffel Tower last July. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The Trump White House will host its very first state dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigette on Tuesday. So, what’s on the menu? Save your McDonald’s jokes. The three-course dinner will fuse French and American culinary traditions. And no, that doesn’t mean there’s well-done steak frites either.

The meal will start with a goat cheese gateau with tomato jam, buttermilk biscuit crumbles, and lettuces from the White House garden. The main course will be a rack of spring lamb and Carolina gold rice jambalaya cooked in the tradition of New Orleans, a city founded by the French. For dessert: a nectarine tart infused with White House honey and crème fraîche.

Every detail of a state dinner is fraught with meaning, so we overanalyzed the food and drink offerings. Here are some observations:

It’s very much a Melania menu, not a Donald menu.

It’s traditionally the First Lady’s role to orchestrate state dinners—from the floral arrangements to the entertainment. But you need look no further than the menu to figure that out. It clearly has Melania’s touch, not her husband’s.

When Trump has dined with world leaders in the past, the food has been more often an accommodation of his tastes than a gesture of diplomacy. At a dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping last April, the menu included pan-seared Dover sole, dry-aged prime New York strip steak, and chocolate cake—Trump’s favorites. Was it a power move meant to assert dominance? A reinforcement of “America First” messaging? Or the President simply being selfish?

Usually world leaders go out of their way to appeal to likes and dislikes of their foreign guests, not the other way around. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for example, took Trump for cheeseburgers during a visit to Tokyo last fall. (Tellingly, Trump was not once spotted with chopsticks during that 12-day, five-nation Asia tour.)

Perhaps because it’s an official, formal state dinner, the White House’s French fête showcases an understanding for the politics of food. There’s no steak and chocolate cake just because that’s what Trump likes. (We can’t imagine the President requesting his lamb with cipollini soubise.) Rather, the First Lady and her team have thoughtfully put together a menu that reflects the transatlantic partnership. That goes for the wine, too. The Chardonnay is made from French grapes aged in French oak barrels in Oregon, while a Pinot Noir uses the slogan “French soul, Oregon soil.”

The menu draws from red states.

Between the buttermilk biscuit crumbles and jambalaya, the dishes clearly have a little bit of a Southern undertone. Coincidence that Trump dominated the vote in that part of the country?

No celebrity chefs this time.

The Obama White House was a magnet for big food-world names. Restaurant industry titans like Rick Bayless, Marcus Samuelsson, Anita Lo, and Mario Batali all collaborated on state dinner menus. This time, White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford won’t be working with any celebrity chefs. It’s hard to imagine many who would jump at the opportunity, especially after the fallout between José Andrés—the unofficial godfather of DC dining—and Trump’s Pennsylvania Avenue hotel.

If the Trumps were going to choose any outside name to consult on the state dinner menu, it likely would have been Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The celebrity toque operates a French-American restaurant in Trump Tower, and also catered there the First Couple’s wedding. Then again, who needs a fancy restaurant chef? Trump calls the White House the “greatest restaurant” in DC.

The china is bipartisan, even if the guest list isn’t.

Breaking with tradition, the Trumps didn’t invite any Democrats to the state dinner, according to Politico. But hey, at least the plateware crosses the aisle. The meal will be served on Bush (43) and Clinton-era china. Perhaps Melania is trying to subvert her husband’s extreme partisanship in bite-sized ways?

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.