tv History Bookshelf Adrian Miller The Presidents Kitchen Cabinet CSPAN December 13, 2020 8:00am-8:41am EST
>> good morning. my name is kirsten carter and i am the supervisory archivist at the fdr presidential library, and on behalf of the library, i'd like to welcome you again to the 2017 roosevelt reading festival. fdr plans for the library to become the premier research institution for studying the entire roosevelt era. the library's research room is consistently one of the busiest of all of the presidential libraries. and this year's group of authors reflects the wide variety of research down here. and if you love the roosevelt reading festival, and want to support this and other programs that we do here, i encourage you to become a roosevelt library member. you can join today at the membership table in the hall or online at fdr library.org and if you haven't already please do go see our new special, temporary museum exhibition, images of internment, the incarceration of japanese americans during world war ii. so let me quickly go over the format for the festival's sessions today. at the top of each hour, a session begins with a 30-minute author talk followed by a ten minute question and answer period. the author then moves to the
lobby to sign books and talk with you more if you have more questions. so during the question and answer period today, this session will be taped for c-span, so we would appreciate it if you could approach the microphone over here at the edge of the room to raise any questions. so now it is my pleasure to introduce our next speaker, and this is adrian miller who is a food writer, attorney, and certified barbecue judge who lives in -- [laughter] denver, colorado. [laughter] he is currently the executive director of the colorado counsel of churches and such is first african-american and first layperson to hold that position. miller previously served as special assistant to president bill clinton and a senior policy analyst for colorado governor bill ritter jr. he's also been board member of the southern food raise alliance.
his first book, soul food, surprising story of ann american quiz seen one plate at a time, won james beard foundation qeard for scholarship and reference in 2014. his second book, president's kitchen cabinet, story of the african-americans who have fed our first families from the washingtons to the obamas, was published on president's day 2017. let's welcome our author. [applause] >> yes, he's a friend of ine. [laughter] well good morning -- it's so great to be here at the president roosevelt presidential library to talk about this subject. i want to give you a little bit about my background. how i came to write this book, on african-american presidentialship, and instead of my typical presentation where i would go through clips, i'm going to focus on those who clipped for president roosevelt and great stories there.
so i was born and raised in denver, colorado, and as you heard i wrote a book on history of soul food and given where i grew up that loses street credit on that subject immediately. but i have two southern parents, my mom is from chattanooga, tennessee, and my dad from arkansas, so this is the food i grew up eating while i was researching that book on history of soul food that african-americans who have cooked for our presidents started popping up in my research, so i said once i finish that book, if i could find enough stories to cobble together a story about these presidentialships, i'm going to do and fortunately i was able to do that and write this book, the president's kitchen cabinet. so i'm a lawyer by training. and didn't -- this is not to disparage any attorney in the audience, but it wasn't for me. and i was going to open up a soul food restaurant in denver
and then a law school classmate had of mine from georgetown, law school called me up out of the blue and said, adrian, i'm working on this initiative in the white house, do you have any friends who might be interested working on this mission. so i'm sitting in any office in denver and she's back in d.c. so tell me a little bit more about initiative that was called initiative for one america, it was outgrowth of president clinton thirktive on race which had this wild and crazy idea. if we just tacked to one another, and listen, we might real that we have a lot more in common than what supposedly divides us. so after she told me this, i did the same thing that dick cheney did when george w. bush caption vice president and head of the search committee only mine went on the list so i did get the job move to d.c. and i boy worked in clinton white house at the end of the second term expfer after that i started this -- interest in food writing, and that led to the concern publication of soul food and then to this book. now what i love about the roosevelt presidency is it encapsulates so many themes that i found in my book. one is just the idea that -- we have these african-americans who are the celebrated culinary artists doing their best to make the president happy through food and first family as well and to keep them healthy. we also have this interplay where -- presidents tend want to play hook key from their
diet. and usually it's the first lady and the presidential physician who are saving the presidents from themselves and then you have these african-american cooks caught in the middle, so it was just interesting personality. so what i'm going to do is primarily focus on three personalities from the roosevelt and administration, one is guy named elon disco ields. another woman was named liz mcduffy, primarily a maid in the roosevelt administration but she also did a lot to help cook and with food service, and then daisy bonner, a cook when he would cook for fdr and stay in warm springs, georgia. now way i organize this book is because i'm dealing with so many people, i eventually found 150 people who have cooked for our presidents from george washington to current administration. i finished my book during the obama administration but there are holdovers from obama administration cooking now, in the trump white house. and i found 150 people, and i decided the best way to tell this story was to create different categories of these cooks and then tell those
stories so i start outside with the ingredients of presidential food ways as i call them. all of the things that are create interplay for the food ways of the white house. and then i started out with the -- used to be called presidential stewart, so these were the people that were in charge of domestic operation of the white house now called chief usher but in earliest days they were the steward, so shopping, plan menu, and hire cooks and oversee operations and then i moved to enslaved people who cooked in the white house for our presidents because they have been slave holders and then i talk the free cooks from the beginning all the way to the present who were part of the white house culture, then i talk about the cooks when the president is traveling. so what happens when the president is on a train, or a boat, or air force one, what happens when they stay a period of time, and then i spend entire chapter on drinks because one of the longest -- one of the longest cat and mouse games is whether or not our president drinks. [laughter] and if i was the press
secretary this seems to be strategy, one, deny that you drink and then when someone prove that you drink say you don't drink that much. and two, deny there's even a white house wine seller and then somebody proves that say there's not much in it. right. and then it is a huge cabinet of shame and fdr ftion probably or bar tender this chief throughout presidential history, and then i end by talking about the future of african-american cooks. there's nothing that's stopping african-american from being named white house chief executive chef so a matter of the presidential taste so i go into that. and that's how i end the book so first let me begin with this cat and mouse game between the first lady and white house physician. so as you know, eleanor roosevelt was fundamentally uninterested in food. [laughter] and yes -- you know she was a brainy type, in fact on sunday night she would have these scrambled egg dinners which staff called scrambled eggs with brains because she would invite intellectuals over to talk about everything.
now there's a little bit of controversy about whether eleanor roosevelt actually cooked the scrambled eggs or just stirred them at the last minute before they were served but anyways, she had these scrambled egg salons. so the white house -- housekeeper henry was one in charge of the food. but the president -- president roosevelt was on a diet and he liked to stray from that diet, so the white house physician and eleanor roosevelt would team up to make sure he would stay on the diet. so henry and diary memorialize kind of exchange between eleanor roosevelt and the doctor. and i'm going to read that now. he was a navy vice admiral dr. mcintyre what he said to roosevelt is call on me if you need help. dr. mcintyre said to ms. roosevelt at the start. that's what eleanor called it when president could get upset, tizzy. and tried to get the president appetite back to normal he sent to new york for specialist and finally brought in doctors from the navy hospital and had
dietitian arrived in uniform four times the president ate everything he was told to eat simply because it was ordered by the navy. the president's reducing diet came from the navy and he was simple list on record -- cut out all fried foods, okay, so that was one directive from the doctor. but typically the president is going to get what they want to get and african-american staff is caught in the middle and so they often have to help the president out. and so i love this exchange with dealing with lizzie mcduffy. lizzy was the wife of o.j. mcduffy who was president roosevelt's long time valet so she eventually comes to the white house an works as the maid. and she would often accompany roosevelt on long trips but really interesting thing about lizzy mcduffy is that she had an outside personality, so she would entertain the president by doing puppet shows, she had
early iteration of the muppets, one doll was called suicide and the other jezebel and she had have puppet shows and president loved them. and so she was a favorite of the president, and actually she would campaign for the president. so in 1936, an election that wasn't a gimme for president roosevelt, she was actually on the stump in major cities across united states so i want to give you an example ever kind of the campaigning that she was doing. this is from the baltimore afro american, an american newspaper, and it says no man is a hero to his valet. for over 350 years since the prince made above statement, the world has debated on both sides of it. last week, this is elizabeth h. mcduffy, white house cook and wife for president roosevelt's valet, taking stump before audience of 7 in st. louis class roosevelt with lincoln,
whose love of fellow men something akin to the define. and here's valet wife to whom her husband's employer is hero. that is news. but bigger news is the spectacle of the white house cook doing it a swell job as a campaign speaker. mrs. mcduffy cheered in st. louis, chicago, and gary, indiana, she went to make one speech. did make three, and could have made 24 more before returning to washington in order to cook the president's meals. so she went to a lot of cities that had a large african-american constituency and campaigned for the president. the federal hatch act it was in place, and for whatever reason nobody tried to prosecute her under that. but she made such a difference that after the election was over, president roosevelt actually called her into the oval office and thanks her personally for what she did for him so that shows relation they have. another interesting thing about
lizzy mcduffy is during one of the white house dinners, there was a movie executive from hollywood who was dining at the whowtion and he took one look at her and said i want her in my next movie. does anybody want to guess what that movie is? gone with the wind. yes. so she was in consideration for the oscar winning role, and actually eleanor roosevelt wrote a letter on her behalf to the director. yes. kind of lobbying for that and there were newspaper reports of her getting the part and i think it's because walter kind of leaked that without verifying sources. can you imagine that happening today? [laughter] so there was a story that she got the part but ultimately did not get the part. but she would accompany oosevelt to georgia where he would stay to get treatment for his polio and he started going to georgia when he was the governor of new york and there he met a woman named daisy bonner and she's one of my favorite characters in this book. so daisy bonner was the private
cook for a local family, irwin family, and when she would go to georgia for long periods of ime to ingratiate themselves with the president, the irwin family lent -- daisy bonner to her, to the pdr and she would stay in a cottage at little white house -- in warm springs and cook. and she introduced him to all kinds of specialties like country captain -- i don't know you've or heard of this dish that's very popular in georgia. it is essentially a chicken curry dish, and she and president roosevelt would joke about it having a secret recipe with 45 ingredients, that wasn't the case but their private joke. but she also cooked a lot of southern delicacies, but one thing that fdr loved by daisy bonner was pigs' feet. the way she cooked them was she would boil them and she would take them out of the pot and then broil them and split them and broil them and butter them and that's how he liked them, so stay with me. it is going to get worse for a second. one of the other interesting
stories, fdr served pigs feet in the white house to winston churchill. and what he served were sweet and sour pigs' feet. now alonzo field, a longtime butler in the white house who starts working in the hoover administration and then -- stays on well into the eisenhower so this is a scene that he paints. it was this type of pigs feet that he requested to be served at the a luncheon just for the prime minister winston churchill and himself. princess martha of norway who lives in maryland during the war had a duke who often prepared pigs' feet and had them brought to the president this dish. and this was sweet and sour pigs feet. he had a twinkle in his eye when he said, let's have them for the prime minister.
when the luncheon was served and prime minister started to help himself he inquired what is this? he was told sir this is pigs feet. he said, pigs feet? i've never heard of them and then he helped himself. after tasting them he said, very good, but sort of slimy. [laughter] the president laughed and said yes they are a bit but i'm fond of them. sometime we'll have them fried. whereupon the prime minister replied no thank you i don't believe i would care for them fried. then they both have a hearty laugh. so that is the pigs feed that happens in the white house. but an interesting dish that daisy made and i have this recipe is that cheese souffle. now, is anybody here a cook? what is big concern about having a soufflé? rising and falling, right? i'm about about to tell you about a miracle, one that will rattle your soul and maybe your belly and this miraculous soufflé is one that daisy bonner made for fdr on the last day of his life. so "the new york times" offers this account.
at 1:15, mrs. bonner had it are -- had it ready and she told the valet, get the president, the supply is ready. the president said, never put it in the oven until i am ready. it came late because felt bad weather and she was worried about mail. he asked third time for the papers. so he gone right to reading when he came out, the artist was sketching him and he never sit for her -- he had to catch when she could the cook said. then as he went in, the president said, what a terrific headache he had, and slumped over in his chair. he never ate that soufflé but it never fell until the moment he died. which was two hours later. that is the miracle part, that this soufflé did not fall for two hours because he had his hemorrhage at 1:12 even though it was scheduled to come out at 1:15. soufflé making is a strong
concern of white house cooks. the white house cook for jfk had this strategy. jfk was chronically late. what the cook did is he made four soufflés, and he timed them at 15 minute intervals hope in -- hoping that jfk would arrive on time. those are the perils of making souffle with our presidents. daisy bonner was very moved by the president's death, they had a close relationship. if you ever go to georgia go to the cook kitchen area she wrote on the wall, daisy cooked the first and last meal for president roosevelt. it's encased in plastic. you can see how moved she was. she wanted to be considered the first lady of presidential cooking. she had plans of opening a museum dedicated to food and
president roosevelt, but she died before she could. daisy is another interesting character in my book. also, i want to talk to about drinks. there's a cat and mouse game about drinks in the white house. fdr embraced drinking culture. i talk about several alcoholic beverages, talk about wine, cocktails, punches, and eggnog. i will be do a little bit about -- i will read you a little bit about eggnog. this is from lillian rogers who is a long time made in the white house. she gives us an insight on how eggnog plays out in the white house. she observed, speaking of liquids, i'm going to give once more the recipe of a drink in my department. cocktail high balls were served upstairs and i had nothing to do with them. the new year's eggnog was a traditional and the white house was concerned with its making. the creamy mixture was prepared in the same way and the punch bowl was carried before the president. each time lifting his cup, president roosevelt gave the same toast, to the united
states. lillian declared after tasting some of the eggnog that president eisenhower made was very strong but the one that roosevelt had was also very strong. you see a lot of strong eggnog not only from the roosevelt administration but to the present day. i don't know about in the trump white house now, but the ones that obama served and president clinton would knock you out. that is just a tradition. i think president roosevelt is most known for the martini. that's where he gets his identity. lillian rogers reminisced that fdr claimed he did not know the exact formula because they have been worked up by family committee. his son jimmy said he liked a mild martini but not as mild as anna's. then franklin got old enough to speak up for a stronger martini.
then johnny shot up so tall he demanded to be heard and insisted on a martini so dry. it could be mistaken for sand. all this time, the president would be mysteriously mixing vermouth and gin so no one can see what his formula was. when he was finished he was as a chairman of the committee he had the power to decide the ultimate taste of a martini. at this point, some people aghast at this were not sure they wanted a martini after all. missy would sip her favor while fdr mixed his own are teeny or ometimes an old-fashioned. when they had guess fdr would insist on mixing martinis for everyone and would break that he is the best martini mixer in the east. there are references to a rum base during call the haitian libation. i've tried find the recipe but i can't. by all accounts it was awful. it is something that fdr really liked to make.
one other thing i forgot to mention that plays into white house food history is presidential pets. the white house executive chef has often been in charge of feeding the animals at the white house and making special recipes for the dogs. there was a time when white house pet messed up the plans for the white house cook. this involved a dog named links. he was a setter that was on the scene. according to white house reports, on the morning of march 1934, there was 12 sets of fried eggs and ham set out for the resident staff. the white house cook made this and stepped away to do something else. when the cook returned, all of hem were gone. they realized this was because
lynx had helped himself to a nice, hearty meal. the press had a lot of fun with this, they staged a photo of links eating ham and eggs off the plate. the cook was upset, so soon after, it was announced that lynx was leaving the white house to spend more time with his family. [laughter] and that paved the way for the more familiar dog, paula. one thing that was interesting about these cooks is that i find -- this plays out in the roosevelt administration -- these cooks fit into three boxes. one is they were culinary artists who are celebrated in their time. if you know anything about the food reputation of the fdr white house, it is not great. people would have second thoughts of whether to come to a state dinner. i would have to admit i was engaging in race pride because i'm thinking there's all these african-american cooks on staff how could the food be that nasty? a lot of the blame rests on henrietta nesbitt and lillian
parks rogers in her diary sheds light on this. the african-americans who cooked for roosevelt would often be doing their thing and henrietta nesbitt would come up behind them and adjust the seasonings. whatever they were making, she messed it up so the food never worked out. but i want to point out the african-americans i did find through my research and i did a lot of research here looking for residents -- references to resident staff. the main part of my research was old newspapers. a lot of companies are digitizing and if you can just figure out the terms used at that time, you can find out a lot about the cooks. the people i found where ida allen, the chief cook. let me back up and say the term white house executive chef does not come into existence until 1961. jacqueline kennedy created that term. before that, they were called first cook, head cook, or chief cook.
then there is armstead burnett, who started as a pantry man, worked in the white house for a long time and then he leaves during the johnson administration to start his catering business in the washington, d.c. area. elizabeth blake, who was an ssistant cook. daisy bonner, who i mentioned, james carter, there was a jimmy carter in the white house before president carter. loretta deans, who is assistant cook, lizzie mcduffie, elizabeth moore, and catherine smith. in her diary, henrietta nesbitt has a lot of praise for aida allen, she said even though she was temperamental, she could work magic can make anything happen if it needed to. you get an idea of the interplay in the white house staff. when the roosevelts come to the white house, they actually end a segregated practice. back in the time of president taft, he hired a woman named mrs. jaffrey who was a segregationist.
even though there is a multiracial cooking staff, she created segregated eating spaces. she had a separate table for whites and blacks. by the time eleanor roosevelt gets to the white house, she rectifies the situation by fiery -- by firing most of the white people. i'll let you decide if that's progress or not. no longer segregation because any praise asked because it is pretty much one race working in the kitchen. overall, we see we have cooks who are culinary artists and many times their family confidants. presidents go to their funerals, their weddings, they send them notes and gifts when significant family events happen. we see presidents moved when they have to leave the white house. there is this tradition where the resident staff minds up and the president goes down the
line and thanks them for their service. the other thing is there are -- they are often civil rights activists. they are pressing for african-americans to have their humanity accepted in the broader society. we saw what mcduffie did for fdr while campaigning. another example is the long-time private cook for lyndon johnson. lyndon johnson, when he is pressing for the 1964 civil rights act, he actually presses er jim crow experiences to persuade members of congress to support the bill. the family would drive back and forth from texas to washington, d.c., she suffered so many indignities that she said not going to make the ride anymore. he would tell people, it is a shame that the president's cook could not -- when the 1964 civil rights act is passed he gives her one of the pens and says you deserve this as much as anyone. one of the big takeaways from
this book is that these african-americans, because of their relationship with the president and the first families, gave our presidents a window into black life that they may not have had otherwise. a lot a president chose not to open that window but for the ones who did, i think our nation is better for it. thank you so much. [applause] we have time for questions. >> i have a question about how the fdr administration differed from the administration before, from herbert hoover. we know from anecdotes that hired help had to -- what happened with african-american cooks in the administration? >> ponder the roosevelt administration, there was more open this and there seemed to be more camaraderie and
openness between the staff and first family and others. there didn't seem to have the rigidity in hoover or the coolidge administration. coolidge would come in the kitchen and critique what the servants were eating. he would say, it seems like you are eating a lot of food here. he is laissez-faire, hands-off, not with the food. >> what about the wilson administration? he segregated the civil service. >> they still have the segregation from the past administration but wilson, he was a southerner, so yes, there are a lot of reports of him celebrating the southern food cooked by white house staff. so i don't know about interaction between wilson and others. there was more during the harding administration but he loved their food. >> so the harding
administration did what? >> there seemed to be a feeling of camaraderie. harding was big on waffles. he loved waffles. he would eat a lot of awful spared -- he would eat a lot of waffles. the cook that would make these waffles were celebrated and talked about how much he loved their waffles. her name was alice howard. >> [inaudible] >> yeah. he waffled in a good way as president. >> do you know if daisy bonner and misses nesbitt ever met? i have not bet your book yet -- read your book yet, but it misses nesbitt's dismissal -- that was the next administration? >> i do not know if they actually met. i didn't find a record of it.
i just don't know. the second one, it was over something silly. the first lady, mrs. truman, wanted butter and mrs. nesbitt refused to give it to her. which is just really interesting. so they had a few tussles before that but i think that was the final blow. she was gone a short time after that. exactly. that's a great question because after that, alonzo feels was a long time butler became maitre d' and another guy was maitre d', i'm sorry, and fields starts to get prominence in the white house and eventually he becomes maitre d' later. that was a pivotal event over a stick of butter. you would think if the first lady wants something, she is going to get it, but that does not always happen. >> the position of the chief executive chef, these tenured appointments or do they carry over from administration to administration? >> great question. like everybody else, they serve at the pleasure of the president. so typically in the white house
kitchen, if there's going to be changes, usually the chief of the executive chef and maybe the pastry chef. when a president comes in, they can decide who to staff the kitchen. most presidents decide to carry over the previous cook, but they might bring an additional cook to make meals for the family. jacqueline kennedy created a second floor kitchen and dining space in the white house. she turned market -- she turned margaret truman's bedroom into a small kitchen pantry because the family used to eat in the stunning room and she thought it was too cavernous and not intimate enough. now there's a dining space on the second floor. lyndon johnson, before president obama, lyndon johnson was the last president to have a second cook cooking for the family. most presidents have the white house chief executive chef do everything. cook for the family and guests. >> including make recommendations for their replacements? >> well, no. sometimes they will make a
recommendation, but typically somebody on the staff may be elevated or somebody the president knows. i'm sorry, most cases it someone the president knows from their prior life before the presidency that they bring into the white house kitchen, if they're going to make a change. but since 1960, most presidents have kept a holdover from the previous administration. for instance, a guy named henry, who was a swiss born guy, served from johnson all the way to reagan and then there was a reagan chef and george w. bush had the same one and then walter came in with the clintons and served to the end of the first term of george w. bush. then an assistant chef who came in under the clinton administration got elevated to white house executive chef and she has been there ever since.
she's executive chef right now. >> is there a food budget? >> yes. here is an interesting thing. before you get to truman, essentially our presidents had to pay for food out of their own pocket. truman eventually gets a budget, so if you order food on air force one, the presidential yacht, or the kitchen, they actually get billed against that account. it's not a free-for-all in terms of food. there is a budget that gets allocated by congress so that's another thing that goes into the food story. to give you more history than you wanted to know, the creation of the white house mess is a reflection of this because after the white house is renovated in the 1950's, there was more need for staff because of the installation of air-conditioning. truman was not going to get more money from congress to have more resident staff. he called them a do-nothing congress and that kind of sticks. [laughter] what he does as he takes the staff off the presidential yacht and makes him the staff of the white house mess which is a private space for senior staff.
that's why the navy operations exist to this day for running the white house mess. a lot of the food that's cooked is run by navy chefs not the white house kitchen staff. >> thank you for speaking today. was there any one elaborate meal that stood out in investigating this book? one more thing, was there a case where someone would have an allergic reaction to something that was eaten amongst the dignitaries? >> yes. the first example is the state dinner cooked for nelson mandela. that was created by an african-american chef named patrick clark who was offered the chef job under president clinton. he was a well-known african-american chef in new york, but he turned it down because it was too much of a pay cut. [laughter]
he was making six figures as a cook at the hotel across the treet from the white house. at that time, the white house executive chef salary was $58000. a drop-off from the private sector, and he had several kids so he turned it top. the clintons asked him to create this meal which was a sesame crusted halibut with red curry and lemongrass vegetables as a cornerstone of the meal. i have the recipe in my book if you want to replicate it. at the last second, the clintons actually asked him to be the guest of honor at that meal. he actually did not cook the meal but he created it. in terms of allergies, the only one that comes to mind is president george herbert walker bush after you had sushi or whatever in japan. that is the only one i know of. this leads to another question people ask, is there a presidential taste tester? yes, there is. it tends to be the opposition
leader in congress. [laughter] no. it is actually the white house chef. they are the last ones to taste what becomes before the president. >> thank you. can you give us insight into our present president? does he have any likes, i know he doesn't drink. >> we don't get a lot of information about what president trump likes, but what i have seen so far as he loves meatloaf and he doesn't love a well done steak with ketchup. it is on the news. there's a lot of chronicles about the fast food. the fast food label is unfair because when you're on the campaign trail, that's what you're getting a lot of times. i do know he loves meatloaf and comfort food.
other than that, we don't get a lot of information about what's going on in the trump white house kitchen. >> thank you. >> all right, thank you so much. [applause] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] up [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [inaudible conversations]
>> next, historians compare founding-era politics to today's politics. they stress that while government and voting demographic have changed, many issues that concern americans today, part shnship, foreign influence and the role of the media, worry those in the republic's early years as well. the kennedy institute for the u.s. senate in boston hosted this event. gina: good evening, everyone. my name is gina perel and on behalf of the edward m. kennedy institute for the united states senate, it is my pleasure to elcome you here. we are going to have a conversation about the intersection of early american history and contemporary political issues. if this is your first visit to the institute, i want to welcome you to our full-scale replica of the united states senate chamber.