Dinner with the First Family
Story by Chris Graham
President Barack Obama broke away from small talk with First Lady Michelle Obama to talk with the people in charge of preparing the dinner, and Lund, the executive chef at Zynodoa in Downtown Staunton, had to take the lead after a fellow chef had trouble finding words.
“I said, Doing good, sir. He said, Well, everything’s looking great,” Lund remembered of the conversation with the president at the Nov. 24 state dinner, which Lund helped prepare at the invitation of White House executive sous chef Tommy Kurpradit, a fellow alum of the prestigious The Inn at Little Washington.
Lund, who took over as executive chef at Zynodoa in August, spent two days in the White House working with White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford and celebrated New York City chef Marcus Samuelsson on the meal, which featured on its menu red lentil soup, roasted potato dumplings and green curry prawns, among other items.
It was difficult at the outset for Lund to get to work. “It’s one thing to go on a tour of the White House and get to walk around the exterior. But to actually get to go down on the inside and see what most people don’t get to see, that in itself is kind of distracting at first,” Lund said.
“Once I got over that initial buzz, it was like work. We had a job to do, and it was tremendously busy. There were a lot of people in the kitchen, and space was tight. It’s one thing to do dinner for 20 people or 50 people. It’s another thing to do dinner for 350 people.”
The day of the dinner was particularly nerve-wracking. “There were many things that we had to do, but couldn’t do until we got closer to the time. In the industry, we call it firing the hots. We couldn’t fire the hots until 5:30, 6 o’clock. We had 300 different things we had to do, but if you fire the hots at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock, it’s not going to be any good come time for the reception,” Lund said.
Just before 7, with the focus of the staff on the task at hand, Obama poked his head into the heated tent where the meal was being served to say thanks to the people who did the hard work getting everything ready.
“Before they went into the hall to see everybody, he came over to the tables that we had set up and said, How’s it going in here, guys?” Lund said.
Obama then asked a couple of questions about the menu, and promised to try a little of everything.
“Then he said, I apologize for not shaking your hand. They make me put this stuff on my face,” Lund said, referring to the makeup foundation that people familiar with formal photos and TV cameras know well.
“I said, Well, I apologize for not shaking your hand, sir. I’m covered in caviar,” Lund said, later kicking himself for not thinking on his feet fast enough to give him a business card for Zynodoa to arrange a future presidential visit to the Queen City.
“That said, hey, it was kind of neat to actually be able to joke around with the president for a minute,” Lund said.