today’s menu: white house kitchens and dining rooms

~ This is the eighth (and final) in a series of posts about Presidential Food


White House State Dinner, 1888.

All this talk of Presidential Food has, of course, made me very hungry — for JFK’s fish chowder, Barack Obama’s chili, Harry S. Truman’s tuna noodle casserole, and Lincoln’s fruit salad.

But it’s also made me curious — what does the White House kitchen actually look like? Is there more than one kitchen for such a large residence? Does the First Family have their own private kitchen, in case they want a midnight snack?

I toured the White House years ago, and I remember standing in a long line at the East Wing entrance, with the tour itself lasting only about five minutes. I was disappointed, because they didn’t show the kitchen or any of the dining rooms, just a handful of public rooms on the first floor.

But recently I discovered the White House Museum! Squee!! I found it more interesting than the official whitehouse.gov virtual tours, because there are photos of how the rooms have evolved during the last 200 years, making it an invaluable resource for those interested in architecture, interior design, and the personal tastes of previous administrations.

Here’s a peek into the tastiest rooms of the White House:

The main kitchen, where five full-time White House chefs work their magic, is located in the residence basement (ground floor).


(2004)


(1992)


A pastry chef making holiday goodies (1991).

This is how part of the kitchen looked back in the Truman Era (1948),

in 1933,

and all the way back to 1904 (T. Roosevelt era).

In the 19th century, the basement also housed African American servants. It was damp, moldy, famous for rats, and generally not a pleasant place to live and work. Still, all meals for official functions were prepared there.


Shown here is Dolly Johnson, President Harrison’s cook (ca. 1891-93)

In 1961, when Jackie Kennedy moved in, she converted a couple of bedrooms on the second floor (where the First Family actually lives), into a family kitchen and dining room. WH chefs use this kitchen to prepare meals for private gatherings of family and friends, and it is here that the First Family can just hang out with a bowl of cereal.


Family kitchen, Clinton era (1998).


(1992)


Lady Bird Johnson (1965).

Over in the West Wing, there is a Mess Kitchen, run by the U.S. Navy, where food for White House staff and visitors is prepared.

(2002)

So, where does everybody dine?

The first floor of the residence contains the State Dining Room, which can seat up to 140 dinner guests, and accommodate 1000 guests for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. All formal receptions are held here.


I like this photo of the Eisenhower Christmas dinner, 1960.

Also on the first floor is a smaller Family Dining Room for more intimate formal gatherings. It is sometimes used as a staging area for state dinners, or as overflow space for guests.

(2006)

Adjacent to the Family Kitchen on the second floor, directly across from the President’s bedroom suite, is the 
Family Residence Dining Room, which apparently has suffered from waffling wallpaper.

See the beautiful, antique wallpaper Jackie Kennedy added, featuring battle scenes from the American Revolution?

Mrs. Carter liked it, but other First Ladies didn’t. Betty Ford covered it with bright yellow wallpaper, the Clintons went with a pale green silk, and the second Bushes opted for a gold and cream pattern.


Family Residence Dining Room today (personally, I like the battle scenes).

Over in the West Wing, just off the Oval Office, is the President’s Dining Room, a place for casual meals alone or with staff.

Because there is a TV in this room, this is where the President first sees important news updates.

And finally, there’s the Navy Mess Hall, adjacent to the Mess Kitchen in the West Wing basement.

(2007)

When the Obamas move into the White House next year, they can order whatever food they want, and they’ll never have to worry about booking a table in advance. It’ll be interesting to see who becomes the new Head Chef, and who gets invited to the first Obama dinner party. One thing we know for certain: there won’t be any beets on the menu (thanks to Sara Lewis Holmes for the tidbit). Barack does not like beets!

But anything else that is fresh from the garden, green, healthy, and low in carbs?


Bring it on!

Be sure to check out the White House Museum website. It contains  floor plans of every level of the main residence and the East and West Wings. Just click on any room to see great photos, arranged in reverse chronological order, with information about the different ways the room has been used. The dining room links that I’ve highlighted here are especially interesting — you can see different table settings and groups of guests.

        
Check out ourwhitehouse.org for more about this book!

The White House is truly our house, too. It’s about time we see just what is going on inside. Don’t miss Our White House (Candlewick, 2008), a fabulous compilation featuring stories, poems, articles, essays, and art from over 100 notable children’s authors and illustrators, including the brilliant poet/author/historian Jeannine Atkins. Check out detailed reviews by Jules of 7-Imp, and Kelly at Writing and Ruminating, and feast on this awesome article, “A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus and Recipes,” by Mary Brigid Barrett.

To see all of the Presidential Food posts, click here. Hope you enjoyed this special series!!

*BTW, remember the Family Circle First Ladies Cookie Bake-off? Cindy McCain’s Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies won by a landslide. Just goes to show that deceit doesn’t pay. And that’s how that cookie crumbled!

*Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress and the White House Museum.

16 thoughts on “today’s menu: white house kitchens and dining rooms

  1. Wow, impressive! I didn’t know there were so many beautiful kitchens (and so much culinary equipment/expertise) in the White House! My kitchen remodel was finally finished this past spring, and I’ve only used the oven once since then. And (drum roll, please) that was for reheating a casserole baked by someone else, for the new kitchen’s christening.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a top-of-the-stove and/or microwave kind of girl. My Jenn-Aire ovens — self-cleaning, with convection and Kosher capabilities — are perplexing and intimidating.)

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  2. I’ve never used a convection oven, and I agree, some kitchen equipment can be intimidating. I was all excited about getting a stovetop griddle and grill when I designed my present kitchen, but it’s such a pain to clean I never use it. Far easier to grill outside.

    What I didn’t realize before is that whenever a new President moves into the WH, he and the First Lady will determine the whole “flavor” of meals served and presented on behalf of the American people. The right meal can work wonders to enhance detente!

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  3. YES! Loved this series.

    Good for Jackie for creating that Family Kitchen. Everyone needs a room like that.

    And Barack doesn’t like beets? Oh, he’s missing out!

    Jules
    7-Imp

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  4. Wow. You’re kidding! I can’t believe how MANY kitchens and dining rooms there are. And I’ll bet there are some Navy folk who’d get a good laugh on that very nice looking dining room being called a mess hall…
    Thanks for all of this. It’s so much fun to peek.

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  5. Glad you enjoyed this little peek. The WH Museum is such a great resource. As you said, it’s fun seeing the changes in the rooms through the years. It was also the first time I was able to get a better sense of the residence and West Wing floor plans, too. This will come in handy when Michelle invites me to tea ;)!

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  6. :]
    Hi, I’m doing a report on the West Wing Mess Kitchen, and I was wondering if you could share anymore more facts or info about it. That would be very appreciated. I’ve gone to the WhiteHouseMuseum website, but there’s still not enough info to get a good grade. Anyways, Thanks.

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  7. My husband & I got to go on a trip once where every meal was taken care of, even the restaurant choices & I found I liked it-no grocery lists, no meals to plan, just a few choices. I know I might tire of that but for a couple of weeks, it was lovely having someone else do the work. I suspect that it’s this way for the President & family most of the time. Remember when Clinton dropped into McDonald’s once in a while. Everyone was all in a flurry because of his choice, but I suspect he just wanted to do something ordinary like in the old days. Thanks for all of this, Jama. It was an interesting tour.

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    1. I enjoy not having to always decide what we’re going to eat — oftentimes it’s half the battle. So I can see why you enjoyed your trip so much where everything was taken care of.

      I remember Clinton and his love of McDonald’s, and of course Obama now with his love of cheeseburgers. Glad you enjoyed the tour; I wrote a series of Presidential posts a few years ago, and am updating a few of them (broken or outdated links, etc.), for President’s Day. I’d like to do more research in this area. I do find it fascinating to learn what people eat and why.

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  8. Oh, that was fascinating. I sympathized with your description of the White House tour as I remember the same. Still, I’d go again, but the last time I was in D.C. with my daughter she didn’t want to go — I think she’d change her mind with the Obamas in the House. But all in all the kitchen is what I’d want to see (they start there in Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, so you know it’s going to be good).

    I was already happy, but then your sweet reference to my work in Our White House, which is indeed fabulous, was so sweet. Thank you! You can imagine what a thrill it was to have my words illustrated my Jerry Pinckney!

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