Sunday, September 22, 2013

For a self-described "kid from the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country," John Moeller has done well for himself.

Well-acquainted with three U.S. presidents and their families, he could look across a room and spot Nelson Mandela or sophia Loren, then rub shoulders with Julia Child in the kitchen - the White House kitchen, that is.

From 1992 to 2005, the Lancaster native had the privilege of serving three successive leaders of the free world as White House sous chef and then chef.

He recounts what he saw - and what Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ate - in "Dining at the White House: From the President's Table to Yours."

This hefty and informative new is book sure to please both cooks and history buffs. "Two-and-a-half years, 400 pages, 100 recipes and countless photos," sums up Moeller of his labor of love.

The book was recently published by Manheim-based LifeReloaded Specialty Publishing and will be introduced at a book-release event at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at The Ware Center, 42 N. Prince St.

*We think we know our stories about presidential palates:

George H.W. Bush famously did not care for broccoli. ("He got a lot of press on that one," Moeller said with a laugh in a phone interview Monday.)

Bill Clinton once enjoyed fast food that wasn't good for him. (After a health scare, the former president slimmed down.)

George W. Bush loved all things Tex-Mex.

But open a copy of "Dining at the White House," and you learn that the Clintons refined the White House menu to reflect American tastes and local ingredients celebrating the nation's bounty. That was a change, Moeller says, from the days when John and Jacqueline Kennedy installed a French chef in the White House.

Moeller joined the staff in the Executive Mansion as a sous chef in 1992, in the waning days of the Bush Sr. presidency. He worked with such legendary culinary figures as Chefs Pierre Chambrin and Walter Scheib. (Scheib himself has written about life in the White House and has visited the Lancaster area.). Eventually, Moeller was appointed acting White House chef during the younger Bush's second term.

*But Moeller's culinary journey began long before that.

A graduate of Lancaster Catholic High School, Moeller, 51, later attended the former Willow Street Vo-Tech School and graduated from the culinary program at Rhode Island's Johnson & Wales University.

Trips to Europe honed his skills. (An amusing anecdote in "Dining at the White House" recalls a young Moeller ordering a veal dish in France that turned out to be something very different from what he expected.)

When the doors of the White House opened, Moeller found himself in a different world, where glamour, history and tragedy crossed paths.

Moeller remembers looking across the State Dining Room of the White House and seeing a particularly beautiful woman. "I thought 'There's an eye-catching lady.' [Then I realized] 'That's not any lady - that's Sophia Loren!'"

Legendary chef Julia Child came to call in 1999 and paid a visit to the kitchen. Moeller says he was grateful he didn't know she was on the guest list, because he might have fumbled his words when meeting her. But all went well.

A more somber memory was of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Moeller writes in his book that the day - on which the traditional Congressional Picnic on White House lawn was scheduled - was "surreal."

"We were all in full production mood," Moeller recalls of the preparations. Then came the word: "There's no party tonight." The staff was being moved out of the White House to nearby Lafayette Park after the Pentagon was attacked.

The events cast a pall on social life at the White House, but contrary to popular belief, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush did entertain after Sept.11. They just did it on a smaller scale, Moeller recalls.

*In addition to his work with "Dining at the White House," Moeller keeps busy these days in his own hometown, running the appropriately named State of Affairs, a Lancaster catering firm. He also has done cooking demonstrations at local businesses such as L.H. Brubaker Appliances.

But Moeller will always recall with pride his days at the White House. It was a challenge, creating menus for first families and visiting heads of state. But, as he says, "We never replicated a dinner!"

For information on the book release event, contact The Ware Center box office at 872-3811 or log on to Tickets are free, but space is limited.

Source: Lancasteronline

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