Alice Waters Meets with Walter Scheib, Backtracks on Criticism of the White House Chef
Marian Burros reports that Alice Waters and Walter Scheib had a private meeting (at the same party where Tom Colicchio saved a life by performing the Heimlich maneuver.)
Scheib, the ex-White House Chef, has been aggressively defending the organic and sustainable practices of the White House in response to the "suggestions" in a letter written by Ruth Reichl, Alice Waters, and Danny Meyer. Their letter to the president-elect read: "A person of integrity who is devoted to the ideals of sustainability and health would send a powerful message that food choices matter.."
Burros details the meeting:
Mr. Scheib and Ms. Waters made their way to an upstairs room and closed the door. His first words were: “I’m 100 percent behind your agenda. The only dilemma I had is over what you said about Cris, who is my friend,” a reference to Cristeta Comerford, who was hired by Mr. Scheib and was promoted to executive chef after he left, in 2005. “She can’t talk publicly so I became her surrogate. I defend my friends.”
Question: if the meeting was behind closed doors, was Burros present? Is this all hearsay?
Update: In a different piece published later that day, Burros clarified that she was, indeed, present for the meeting: "Mr. Scheib and Ms. Waters made their way to an upstairs room, with this reporter, and closed the door."
Anyway, Burros lets Alice Waters "explain herself":
“I never criticized Cris for what she does when I offered to help evaluate the cooking.” She added that she was relieved to learn that the Obamas were not hiring a celebrity chef, as some had suggested.
But here's the thing. In an interview with the New York Times' Well Blog back in December of 2008, Alice Waters further elaborated her ideas for the White House. Never directly criticizing or reprimanding the current White House practices and philosophies, Waters more than indirectly implied that a new chef was necessary:
I could certainly help to find someone or evaluate who is there. I want them to consider somebody who thinks about food as being connected to nature, to time and place, who understands where food comes from. I’m not thinking of someone who is a celebrity chef. Sometimes the celebrity gets in the way of a focus on real food. I think it should be somebody who just really understands the philosophy.
Furthermore, to defend the local practices of the White House kitchen started under his reign during the Clinton administration, Scheib even lets us in on a state secret:
The White House began buying from about 40 different local farmers and co-ops, although for security reasons this was not widely discussed. If word leaked out that a purveyor was supplying food to the President, it was immediately dropped from the list, a Secret Service requirement.