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The other Pinay at Obama inaugural

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Charice Pempengco Cristeta ComerfordFUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo
January 13, 2009

Besides Charice who is performing at the pre-inaugural ball for Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., presumably on Jan. 18, there’s another Filipino in the event and she’s none other than Cristeta Comerford who has been retained as executive chef of the White House.

This is pointed out by Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre (of The Filipino Reporter) who said that before the actual inauguration day on Jan. 20, “There will be a series of pre-inaugural and post-inaugural events like the Oscars, you know, pre-Oscar events and then several parties during the awards night itself, such as the Elton John party, Vanity Fair ball, etc.).”

Added Edmund, “If the Obamas will watch Charice’s pre-inaugural performance, big deal ito talaga kasi I heard hundreds of performers and their handlers (even those outside the US) are lobbying to be able to perform in any of these events. This is a historic event, first African American president kasi, eh. Many said this is the final nail in the coffin of racism in America.”

Ang saya! exclaimed Edmund.

“Also attending pala is another Filipino, Philippine Ambassador to the US Willy Gaa, along with the rest of the diplomatic community.”

Edmund sent to Funfare the following clipping of Jan. 8, 2009 issue of The New York Times carrying the story about Cristeta Comerford, titled “No Change Brewing in the White House Kitchen” bylined Rachel L. Swarns:

Some prominent foodies have been clamoring for change in the White House kitchen. But President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have decided that Cristeta Comerford, the executive chef at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, will stay put, a transition official said on Thursday.

Ms. Comerford, the first woman to hold the executive chef post, has been in the job since 2005. And some gourmands have argued that that is long enough. Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, sent a letter to Mr. Obama, along with restaurateurs Alice Waters and Danny Meyer, offering to help him select someone new for the job. Ms. Reichl said the White House could use a chef who cooks local and organic foods and picks some of it from the presidential garden.

But a transition official said that First Lady Laura Bush spoke very highly of Ms. Comerford and that the Obamas, who have two young daughters, also liked the fact that Ms. Comerford is a mother herself. Mrs. Bush’s office has praised Ms. Comerford in the past for creating “original dishes with American flavor.”

“They had heard a great deal about her from Mrs. Bush,’’ said the transition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Bushs just loved her. There’s no need for making a change.’’

Ms. Reichl said she still hoped that the Obamas would use the White House kitchen as “a bully pulpit” to publicize their healthy eating habits, irrespective of who is doing the cooking.

“I’m sure that Ms. Comerford is completely capable of serving fabulous food to them,” Ms. Reichl said. “I would just hope that they would take this opportunity to use this bully pulpit as a way of saying, ‘We eat healthy, nutritious, locally-grown food.’ I think it would be a really easy way to have an influence on this obesity crisis in this country. I would really hope they would broadcast what they’re eating to the rest of us.”

Ms. Comerford is a naturalized citizen who came to the United States from the Philippines when she was 23. She has a bachelor’s degree in food technology from the University of the Philippines and has studied classic French cooking and worked in Austria. She also worked as chef at two Washington hotels. She joined the White House as an assistant chef in 1995.

Her predecessor, Walter Scheib III, who was hired by Hillary Clinton when she was first lady, was fired by Mrs. Bush in 2005. He said at the time that he had been unable “to satisfy the first lady’s stylistic requirements.’’

On Friday, the Obama transition team released a statement from Mrs. Obama about the family’s decision:

“Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family. Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families. I look forward to working with her in the years to come.”

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