Posts tagged #Jackie Kennedy

Rene Verdon French Chef of the Kennedy White House Era Passes

Once there was a place called Camelot…..

Do you remember the grace and pride we all once felt when Washington sparkled with style?  It was a grand time, full of hope and youth.

This past week Chef Rene Verdon, who with the admired Jacqueline Kennedy crafted that re-birth of elegance, passed away at 86 in his San Francisco home.  Prior to his (and Jackie’s) arrival in White House kitchen, a vague array of chefs and caterers had created years of less than impressive presidential cuisine.  

But when the elegant Jacqueline Kennedy swept into the White House, all that changed. Beginning in 1961 (was it really that long along?), Chef Verdon instituted classic French discipline and techniques into the kitchen. And the results showed.  

State dinners were no longer dull gray diplomatic gatherings but became glittering social events with fine wines matched to gourmet selections.  Indeed in the years prior to the Kennedy era, White House dinners were so bad that foreign diplomats traditionally ate before coming to presidential dinners. 

And though some Americans were concerned about the “foreign influence”, Chef Verdon proudly stated that he was merely continuing the tradition of enjoying the best just as President Jefferson had done 200 plus years before.

Chef Verdon’s influence spread far and wide, creating a wave of interest and appreciation for the amazing but nearly forgotten world of French cuisine in America.  His success at the White House made it easier for diners to ‘think French’ when they made a reservation.  

Americans even began to visit France more frequently to see first hand the wonders of French cuisine.  And, of course, there was Julia Child making it all seem so easy and so much fun.

Sadly, for many of us, the ease and wonder of those days ended with the crack of a rifle bullet shattering the nation’s heart one dark day in Dallas. 

Jackie, dressed in a widow’s black dress, left the White House, but Chef Verdon stayed to help the nation continue.  But one president is not like another one.

 Chef Vernon found he could not accept the more casual culinary standards of the Johnsons and so he left, preferring the supportive atmosphere of San Francisco where he mentored generation after generation of American chefs in all things French.

And now he, too, has left us.  One can only imagine that Jackie and Jack will greet him on arrival in heaven with a deep smile and warm hug and tell him, “Well done, good friend – great chef.”

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2011 


Every year hundreds of new cookbooks are published. Some are focused on kitchen techniques or the use of a single ingredient.  Others highlight international or ethnic cuisines. Some are written by celebrity chefs about their five star restaurants while other writers share their favorite foods from cakes to chowders.  

Only rarely does the reader have an opportunity to walk through time with a chef who so insightfully understands that the personalities of the diners defines, not only cuisine, but also the history of an era. 

Chef John R. Hanny has crafted just such a book.  An amazing individual in his own right, Chef Hanny invites the reader in Secrets from the White House Kitchens to stroll with him through the executive kitchens and into the personalities of America’s presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama. 

Each president (and first lady) is presented as a unique individual whose style is reflected in their menu choices both public and private. Chef Hanny invites us through his well told stories to attend the oh so American hot dog picnic that the food-casual Roosevelts served a startled but always gracious King and Queen of King during the war years. 

He records the grace (and sadness) of the Kennedy years when Jackie Kennedy brought elegance to the White House and amazed the world with her international style.  Bush, Johnson, Truman, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Carter, Clinton and Obama are all here as well.

Each presidential story is matched with a wealth of authentic recipes that mirror the tenor of the man – some simple and direct, others involved and elaborate – all a reflection of America then (and still today). 

This is a book to read and savor as well as to use.  It is, simply put, an experience shared that invites the reader to understand not just the cuisine of the White House but the intriguing ingredients of personality and power. 

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2010