Obama: ‘We saved the best for last’ at fi­nal state din­ner

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

“Bit­ter­sweet” was the word of the night, the one of­ten used to de­scribe Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s fi­nal State Din­ner.

“We saved the best for last,” he said Tues­day as he wel­comed Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi and his wife, Ag­nese Lan­dini, to the White House. He wasn’t jok­ing. The fi­nal gala meant ev­ery­thing was big or big­ger, from the per­son­al­ity of the guest chef (Mario Batali) who col­lab­o­rated on the menu to the size of the white tent (huge) on the South Lawn where the soiree was held, to the guest list (nearly 400 peo­ple).

Tues­day’s guest list in­cluded a touch of ev­ery­thing: celebri­ties, law­mak­ers, se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, White House staff, a larger-than-usual con­tin­gent of jour­nal­ists and oth­ers, and it had the feel­ing of hav­ing been de­signed as one big fi­nal “thank you” to all.

In fact, Mrs. Obama was over­heard thank­ing her guests “for eight mag­nif­i­cent years.”

“This has truly been a suc­cess­ful fi­nal State Din­ner,” she said be­tween din­ner and the en­ter­tain­ment.

Guests of Ital­ian de­scent in­cluded House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the high­est-rank­ing Ital­ian-Amer­i­can in US pol­i­tics; for­mer race car driver Mario An­dretti, who sported socks de­signed like a check­ered rac­ing flag; fash­ion de­signer Gior­gio Ar­mani; ac­tor John Tur­turro; New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo; and ac­tor-direc­tor Roberto Benigni.

Once again, the first lady daz­zled — lit­er­ally — in her evening gown, a rose gold chain­mail num­ber by Ital­ian de­signer Ver­sace, the White House said. Other fe­male guests also went Ital­ian in their choice of at­tire, cloth­ing them­selves in Valentino, Roberto Cavalli and oth­ers.

Batali helped the White House kitchen crew pre­pare the meal, and Grammy-win­ning pop singer Gwen Ste­fani opened the af­ter-din­ner seg­ment with her hit, “The Sweet Es­cape,” as her boyfriend, coun­try su­per­star Blake Shel­ton, looked on from the

au­di­ence. Af­ter that song, she talked about her dad be­ing Ital­ian Amer­i­can and said “I’m try­ing to, like, fig­ure this out, how I got here,” re­fer­ring to the din­ner.

A few guests, in­clud­ing fel­low cook San­dra Lee, Cuomo’s part­ner, said they were mostly look­ing for­ward to eat­ing Batali’s food.

In his pre-din­ner toast, Obama said Amer­i­can democ­racy had been graced by a touch of Italy. He noted that the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial and the in­te­rior of the US Capi­tol dome were done by Ital­ians, and raised a glass to the “en­dur­ing al­liance” be­tween the US and Italy.

Renzi al­luded dur­ing his toast to a speech the first lady gave last week in New Hamp­shire in which she crit­i­cized Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump for boast­ing on a 2005 video about be­ing sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive to­ward women.

“Michelle, your toma­toes are great. But af­ter the last weeks, let me be very frank, your speeches are bet­ter than your toma­toes,” Renzi said, thank­ing her as the fa­ther of a young daugh­ter.

Batali, ex­ec­u­tive chef Cris­teta Comer­ford and pas­try chef Susie Mor­ri­son set­tled on a menu of sweet potato ravi­oli with browned but­ter and sage, warm but­ter­nut squash salad and an en­tree of beef pin­wheels, an Ital­ian clas­sic, served with broc­coli rabe. Dessert was a green ap­ple crostata, or Ital­ian tart, served with but­ter­milk gelato, or Ital­ian ice cream.

The menu was de­signed to show­case tra­di­tional Ital­ian dishes that are fa­mil­iar to Amer­i­cans and were made us­ing in­gre­di­ents pulled from Mrs. Obama’s gar­den dur­ing this month’s fi­nal har­vest, such as the sweet pota­toes and herbs.

Obama has held 13 state din­ners dur­ing nearly eight years in of­fice, two more than Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, but fewer than other re­cent pre­de­ces­sors, ac­cord­ing to the White House His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton far ex­ceeded both of his suc­ces­sors with 28 din­ners dur­ing two terms in of­fice.

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