Barack Obama’s for­mer chef, Sam Kass, on the White House gar­den and healthy eat­ing.

Barack Obama’s for­mer per­sonal chef on lunchbox bar­ter­ing, lucky pasta and that time he helped the First Lady dig up the White House lawn.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

What did you eat as a schoolkid grow­ing up in Chicago?

My par­ents would make me lunch ev­ery­day. It was a point of great con­ster­na­tion be­cause it was al­ways pretty healthy and bor­ing – a turkey sand­wich with ched­dar cheese, ap­ple sauce, a cheese stick and an ap­ple – so I never had any­thing to trade with the other kids. I never had any­thing any­one wanted.

You’re from a fam­ily of teach­ers. What was bet­ter in your house­hold: the food or the con­ver­sa­tion?

The con­ver­sa­tion. My par­ents al­ways cooked ’80s and ’90s Amer­i­can-style food: ice­berg sal­ads, grilled chicken and beef, steamed veg­eta­bles. It was fine, but very sim­ple.

When did you be­come in­ter­ested in food?

I al­ways knew that I wanted to learn how to cook one day, but I had no dreams of be­ing a chef. One sum­mer dur­ing col­lege in Chicago, I got a job at a restau­rant – I started fall­ing in love with the kitchen then.

At one point, though, you thought you’d be a base­ball player.

Yeah, all the way through col­lege, it was my dream to make it to the ma­jor leagues. But I wasn’t good enough. My first trip abroad, though, was with an all-star team that went to Aus­tralia.

Did you eat any­thing mem­o­rable here?

Vegemite! On toast. No­body had ever heard of it in the United States.

I cooked a pasta for Obama ahead of a de­bate dur­ing the re-elec­tion cam­paign. He cred­ited that pasta for his vic­tory.

Even­tu­ally, you ended up cook­ing at restau­rants in Vi­enna.

My first job in Vi­enna was a dis­as­ter. My sec­ond job started off badly, be­cause they threw me in the deep end and I had to learn how to sink or swim. So I had many dis­as­ters, but I got the hang of things.

What’s it like to eat in Vi­enna?

It’s a great food town. There are the clas­sic sausages and schnitzels, which are de­li­cious. The chef I worked for, Chris­tian Dom­s­chitz at the Mör­wald, was very play­ful. He’d take clas­sic coun­try meals and turn them into very high-end dishes. There’s a clas­sic pork and cab­bage dish in Aus­tria and he did it with lob­ster. The food was in­cred­i­bly high-qual­ity and beau­ti­ful.

That lux­u­ri­ous style of eat­ing is pretty dif­fer­ent to the nu­tri­tious

food you’re as­so­ci­ated with to­day.

Through that process, I started to learn some of the prob­lems: the big­ger chains and com­pa­nies, and the food they’re pro­duc­ing, have cre­ated health is­sues for us. I wanted to help change how we were cook­ing, prepar­ing and serv­ing our food, as well as the health of the land pro­duc­ing it and the peo­ple eat­ing it.

When did you first en­counter Barack Obama?

I was in high school. That was long be­fore I started work­ing for him. The part of the Chicago neigh­bour­hood I’m from is a small place, and I was in­tro­duced to Obama at a few so­cial gath­er­ings early on. You could tell he was go­ing places – where, no­body knew, but he had that kind of en­ergy, for sure.

When did you know you wanted to work for

the Oba­mas?

I never had the in­ten­tion of cook­ing for them. I came back to Chicago af­ter my trav­els and I was cook­ing for a fam­ily. They ran into Michelle on a f light and they ended up re­con­nect­ing us. So that’s how it all hap­pened.

You helped Michelle Obama dig up the White

House lawn and in­stall the first veg­etable gar­den at the pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence in a cen­tury. What was that like?

It seems nor­mal now, but at the time, it was a crazy thing to do. It was so much fun. Hav­ing those kids down there dig­ging in the dirt, show­ing what’s pos­si­ble when you en­gage young peo­ple in the process, was re­ally pow­er­ful; it was a pow­er­ful sym­bol for the coun­try and for the world. And then cook­ing from that gar­den – it couldn’t have been more fun.

Was there any­thing that was re­ally hard to grow?

I re­ally strug­gled with pump­kins and the kids al­ways wanted them for Hal­loween. So we had to work hard to get pump­kins grow­ing there.

Your book, Eat a Lit­tle Bet­ter, has a recipe for “POTUS’s Lucky Pasta”. What’s the story?

It was a pasta I cooked for Obama ahead of an im­por­tant de­bate dur­ing the re-elec­tion cam­paign. He cred­ited the pasta for his vic­tory.

Be­ing semi-re­spon­si­ble for his elec­toral suc­cess must feel good!

Let’s be hon­est, he was go­ing to be fine with­out the pasta! I can’t take too much credit.

What did you learn from the Oba­mas about food?

The im­por­tance of fam­ily din­ner. Un­less Obama was over­seas or on the other side of the coun­try, he al­ways made sure he was home for din­ner. That was im­pres­sive.

You shaped food pol­icy at the White House, and your com­pany, Trove, helps busi­nesses pro­duce health­ier and more sus­tain­able food. What are you glad to have achieved?

The trans­for­ma­tion of school nu­tri­tion is some­thing I’m proud of. As well as all the work we did with Wal­mart to re­duce the cost of health­ier food op­tions and make them more eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able.

Nowa­days you do a lot of cook­ing for your in­fant son, Cy. Is he a good eater or a tough judge?

Kind of both. He likes what he likes, and if he doesn’t like it, he’ll just drop it on the floor. So he lets you know if he’s not sat­is­fied with your cook­ing. But it’s such a joy to cook for that lit­tle guy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.