have a bite with barack

~ This is the sixth in a series of posts about Presidential Food

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (lawyer, author, epicure)

Shave ice of many flavors


Flanked by the ladies in Hawaii this past summer.

Right about now, all five White House chefs are probably wondering what’s going to be on the menu for the next four years.

Will they have to brush up on their Chicago pizza skills? Import bags of poi from Hawai’i? Or will they be asked to serve their culinary creations on green plates?

Barack’s pizza policy: vegetarian

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) know that I’m a strong believer in the old adage, “you are what you eat.” When it comes to food in the White House, each First Family has brought something distinct to the table — not only with regard to what is served, but how it’s served. There is nothing more revealing of personality than one’s style of entertaining.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Michelle Obama will follow Nancy Reagan’s lead, attending to every minute detail of preparation and presentation, or be more like Pat Nixon, who was happy to allow the chefs to surprise her. Whatever the case, her culinary decisions will definitely impact the outcome of official gatherings.

James Beard once said that “food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Since establishing common ground is such a crucial part of the new President’s agenda, strict attention should be paid to serving food that fosters diplomacy. (Dip everything in chocolate, I say!)

I predict the Obama administration will be known for innovative, culturally diverse cuisine with an emphasis on fresh, naturally produced, organic ingredients. Arugula will replace iceberg, tropical fruit will grace the breakfast table, and state dinners will feature dishes influenced by Barack’s African, Hawaiian, and Indonesian roots. All to say, not too much emphasis on the flash and glam, but a nod to eating as close to the source as possible.

  Tasting cheese in the Italian Market section, Philadelphia (April 2008)


Ah, Mexican!

Private family dinners, with two young girls in the house, will get real with typical American family fare — pizza, chicken wings, pasta, cheese toast, and Barack’s famous chili. Yes, the man can cook! As a bachelor, he had a roommate who taught him how to cook Indian food, and he credits having lived in Hawai’i for his knowledge of Chinese cuisine. (See his interview on 60 Minutes here, where he makes tuna salad.) Perhaps if she can find a spare minute, Michelle will whip up a batch of seafood gumbo, the first dish she ever cooked for Barack.

A chicken wing and a tasty finger.

After being in Washington for awhile, the Obamas might miss some of their favorite hometown restaurants — Topolobampo (nouveau Mexican), R.J. Grunts (downhome ribs, burgers, salad bar, Tex-Mex), and Italian Fiesta Pizzeria (a non-descript, mini-mall joint near their South Side home).

Michelle’s favorite upscale spot is Sepia, whose seasonal menus are “rooted in tradition, melding rustic sensibility with contemporary flair.” It sounds divine, as it was built from an 1890’s print shop, and supports “local artisan growers using sustainable practices.” No doubt her refined palate will find its way into more formal White House events, but I predict the meals will be served in a relaxed setting conducive to candid conversation.

I’m still euphoric about the outcome of the election, and thought the perfect way to celebrate would be to try an Obama family recipe. Here is a yummy pasta dish, sure to please kids as well as adults. It’s perfect for busy families looking for a healthy, nutritious meal without too much fuss. I used regular linguini here, but of course you can go a healthier route — whole wheat or gluten-free (I love Pasta Joy’s brown rice pasta). Make some soon, in honor of Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Pumski*!


1-1/2 lbs. fresh shrimp (shell on)
several garlic cloves
sun-dried tomatoes (sliced in olive oil)
chicken broth
1 box linguini
fresh basil, julienned
1 T olive oil

Clean, de-vein shrimp. Remove shells and soak them in hot chicken broth.

Thinly slice garlic (the more garlic, the better flavor of the dish).

Cook pasta and set aside (do not overcook).

In large saute pan, heat olive oil on high heat and saute garlic cloves until they begin to brown slightly.

Add fresh shrimp and cook until just beginning to turn pink. Add salt and pepper to flavor shrimp.

Add sun-dried tomatoes and continue to cook for another minute.

Add pasta. Mix pasta into garlic, shrimp and sun-dried tomato mixture until it is coated entirely with mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slowly add a bit of the shrimp shell and chicken broth liquid to remove reserves from bottom of pan.

Remove pan from heat and let sit for a few moments.

Add basil over top to garnish.


There’s always room for pie.

For some beautiful photos from the Honolulu Star Bulletin archives of the Obamas in Hawai’i, click here.

Tasty Infobites about Barack:

Favorite music: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Bach, Elton John, Bob Dylan.

Favorite books: Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison), Moby Dick, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Self Reliance (Emerson), Parting the Waters, Gilead (Robinson), Lincoln’s collected writings, Bible

Favorite movies: Godfather I and II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca

Favorite quote: “The Arc of the Moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

*On the Paula Deen Show, Michelle revealed that her pet nickname for Barack is “Pumski.” Wonder if pumpkin dishes will show up on the White House menu?

**If you insist on dessert, try Michelle’s Apple Cobbler!

“You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawai’i.”
~ Michelle Obama

36 thoughts on “have a bite with barack

  1. I’m trying to decide if my respect for B. Obama just went up or down. Moby Dick?? We spent an entire semester picking it apart when I was in high school and the most I can say for it is thank goodness I don’t have to do that again.
    I get the impression the Obamas are big on “casual” so perhaps comfortable, unpretentious foods will be featured.


  2. I LOVE shave ice.
    And pie.
    Doesn’t he look so REAL sitting there eating shave ice, wearing flip flops, surrounded by little girls?
    President Obama. 🙂


  3. I agree with your “casual” assessment. I think the WH chefs will find the Obamas to be a breath of fresh air — how fun to have kids in residence, too.
    Moby Dick is one of those classics that we’ve all had to wade through. I remember skimming all those digressions, and being frustrated with them, as they stalled the action. Way more about whaling than you’d ever want to know.
    My opinion of Barack’s liking it actually goes up a notch. If nothing else, the man has patience and tenacity!! I kind of think he was enamored with the whole metaphor of conquering the whale against all odds, the epic adventure of it all. Look where that kind of thinking got him today!


  4. I hear you on the shave ice and pie! Every time we visit my family in Hawai’i, we have to stop at Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa (best shave ice on the island). Yes, I love how REAL, how normal he and his whole family are. I think that’s why so many millions of people could identify with him.
    And isn’t it nice to have a President who is intelligent and literate for a change? I still don’t get why some people equate intelligence with elitism.


  5. Aw, man. I love pictures of people eating pizza! Thanks for including the picture of Mr. Obama eating pizza. 😀
    You know, I didn’t need the Internet, television, or radio to find out that Mr. Obama had won the presidency. I was out on a Starbucks run when I heard really loud shouts. And that’s how I knew he had won – THERE WERE CHEERS IN THE STREETS OF METRO MANILA.
    Tarie :o)
    Into the Wardrobe


  6. Wow, that’s so awesome. I didn’t realize (prior to the outcome), that there would be such an international outpouring of approval. That’s some kind of charisma!


  7. The man loves Dylan? Who knew? I’m with him on the Stevie Wonder, and EW&F. And I absolutely loved Gilead.
    Like you, I can’t wait to see what the White House will be cooking up. I’m hopeful for food with an international flair.


  8. I was SO thrilled when I saw Dylan on his list of faves. Of course, that totally sealed the deal for me. 🙂
    It’s time to say goodbye to Texas barbecue, and hello to international cuisine!!


  9. Because I think a lot of people equate intelligence with education, and a good education is often seen as “elite” – which isn’t to say that plenty of not-well-off people can’t still get scholarships and the like, but that’s probably the reason for the association.


  10. I was going to say the same thing. I, for one, never miss your blog, Jama. In fact, I have one of your soup recipes on my fridge.
    As for “we are what we eat,” well, I take it a step further by saying, “I am what my kids don’t eat.”
    I crave shrimp linguine. Thanks for always putting together such a great blog!


  11. One daughter won’t touch shrimp, the other tried it a few times, then decided she doesn’t like it, and my husband is mildly allergic. So, yeah, if I make it, it will be all mine!


  12. I just can’t decide which of these wonderful candid photos of Barack and food I like the most. Although I keep going back to the one under the tree in Hawaii – I love that they’re all wearing flipflops, and all are ignoring the camera and concentrating on their icy treats. This is a very tasty blog post, Jama – a real keeper!!


  13. Hey there! It’s been awhile; nice to have you share a bite. Of course I’m partial to the shave ice photos and think his choice of rainbow syrup is totally in keeping with his diverse outlook on life.


  14. It makes me SOOOOoooo happy to see our next president in flip-flops, licking his fingers, sampling cheese, smiling a goofy smile over Mexican food. He’s so REAL.
    Thanks for the pics!!!


  15. What a great post! Maybe we’ll make her apple cobbler on Inauguration Day — to celebrate!


  16. BBQ
    GREAT post! How interesting! And a recipe too–yum!
    And guess what…I had the unbelievable luck to be five feet from Obama while he was eating a BBQ lunch in Fayetteville NC! I’ll never forget it! He was meeting the other diners and a little old Republican lady said, “I may not agree with you, but I do admire you…” and offered him a Tupperware container of brownies she had made herself. He was very kind and took a couple and thanked her and said, “My mama taught me not to eat dessert first, but I’ll save these for when I’m done.” So add BBQ and brownies to the list!
    Nice to meet you!


  17. Re: BBQ
    Welcome, Becky. What a great story! Barbecue and brownies. Yum!! I love that he’s so polite to everyone, so down-to-earth. Both my half sister and former neighbor worked for his campaign and met him personally, and both said he was just wonderful — genuinely interested in the individual and very personable :).


  18. Yeah, I know — sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s not all a dream. I feel like I’m turning into an Obama groupie — the whole family fascinates and interests me.


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