President Barack Obama receives grilling tips from Chef Bobby Flay in September.AP
First lady Michelle Obama helps make tacos with chef Marcus Samuelsson during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in April.AP
First lady Michelle Obama, right, stands with French chef Daniel Boulud as he holds up baby turnips while participating in the White House Kitchen Garden Fall Harvest.AP
Move over Kid Rock and Eva Longoria.
When it comes to the political role of this year’s of-the-moment, bold-faced name, celebrity chefs rather than Hollywood stars may tell you more about a presidential candidate.
Not surprisingly, A-list celebrity chefs have been cooking up a storm for President Barack Obama at his $40,000-a-plate fundraisers. But at events for GOP presidential hopefully Mitt Romney, who’s had just about an equal amount of $40,000-a-plate fundraisers, it’s hard to find out who sliced the sirloin.
Why is that?
Republican strategist and former Romney adviser Mike Murphy says the celebrity chef-Obama connection isn’t about diversity or food. It’s about celebrity. “If you’re in any kind of celebrity orbit you’re for Obama,” he says.
And when it comes to celebrities of the food world, Obama’s got the cream of the crop whipping him up exquisite meals.
In May, Wolfgang Puck whipped up Roasted Duckling ‘Peking style’ and A Duo of Lamb and Beef Cheek for George Clooney’s $40,000-per-plate “Starmageddon” fundraiser. Puck was on board with similar stellar menu for an Obama fundraiser earlier this month.
Daniel Boulud, one of the country’s most accomplished and celebrated chefs, served Maine Lobster Salad with Roasted Beets, Roasted Tenderloin with Stuffed Potato and Hen of the Woods (those would be mushrooms), and Vanilla-Raspberry Gelée, Sablé Breton, Yuzu Sorbet, for a $38,500-per-plate DNC fundraiser at his four-star, Restaurant Daniel.
Chef Marcus Samuelson’s DNC fundraiser at The Red Rooster included Braised Short-Ribs with Honey-Glazed Chokes, Spring Onions, Red Wine Reduction, and Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb Compote and Buttermilk Sherbet.
Chef Michael White prepared the menu for Sarah Jessica Parker and Anna Wintour’s $40,000-per-plate “Barack in the City” fundraiser last summer.
In comparison, A-list chefs have prepared few of any Romney’s fundraiser meals, which have been attended by billionaires the likes of David Koch, Ron Perelman and Woody Johnson.
We did learn that Chef Chris Ward, owner of Dallas’ Mercury restaurant prepared the lunch hosted by Ann Romney at the home of former President George W. Bush. In Chicago, Romney supporters paid $2,500 each to eat sliders, pizza and bacon-wrapped shrimp at The Pump Room -- a restaurant in Ian Schrager’s chic Public Chicago hotel. And then there’s the stream of swanky dinners -- at hotels, restaurants and private homes. The chefs behind those meals seem to be somewhat of a state secret.
We got no response when we reached out to several people who put together Romney’s fundraisers to get specifics about who prepared the meals and why the campaign doesn’t use –or advertise -- big name chefs.
But Democratic strategist Mark Mellman of The Mellman Group says the reason why Obama appears to use celebrity chefs more than Romney is a matter of taste.
He said if you polled the eating habits of Democrats and Republicans it would probably show that Democrats are more interested in more diverse cuisines, while Republicans tend towards meat-and-potatoes. Eating at the celebrity chef level, he says, “suggests an openness to new experience.”
Murphy scoffs at that idea. The more expensive the entrée, the “more likely it was cooked by an elite chef for a Democrat. One of the many fascinating ways they fight for the middle class,” he chuckles.
During his time in office, the President and First Lady have both used celebrity chefs to further causes or get attention to programs.
Michelle Obama, the driving force behind healthy lunch and anti-obesity initiatives, launched “Chefs Move to Schools,” which pairs local chefs with school districts. The White House also held a “Kids’ State Dinner” comprised of children who submitted winning recipes to the “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge” sponsored by Epicurious.com, the USDA and the Department of Education.
Alice Waters, creator of the farm-to-table movement, inspired the First Lady to carve out part of the South Lawn for her now famous vegetable garden.
And the State Department in September inducted 80 of the country's top chefs into the first American Chef Corps to help forge cultural exchanges with visiting dignitaries.
While the Obama campaign seems to relish their support, a celebrity chef endorsement can backfire, says Murphy.
Instead of appealing to the middle class, a celebrity endorsement may make a candidate out of touch. “If you’re a guy selling hundred-dollar entrees for a living in New York or Beverly Hills rather than a guy, say, welding barge holes in Norfolk, Virginia, you’re probably going to be an Obama guy.”
Mellman, too, agrees that celebrity endorsements can cut both ways, and cautions against generalizing about the politics of celebrity chefs.
Most celebrity chefs own restaurants in urban areas and most urban areas tend to be Democratic. “I don’t know that they’re all or mostly Democrats,” he says. He says that some chefs may be politically driven, and some not.
But the big difference he says in cooking for Romney versus Obama: “I do know that there’s more prestige in cooking for a president than a candidate.”