Back in the 90s, Mel and I had the opportunity to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House. That evening we had dinner with Bill Clinton on the third-floor sun room, where the family normally ate with small groups. The room wasn’t very large, barely big enough for the five of us.
Still, I was excited to be having a regular meal with the President rather than an official dinner in the East Room. What would be served, I wondered?
As it turn out the fare was quite ordinary: roast beef, baked potato, broccoli and a salad, all simply prepared. I’ve forgotten the dessert; it wasn’t memorable.
When I heard about President Trump’s “most beautiful chocolate cake in the world,” it got me to thinking of favorite foods of our recent chef executives. It was surprising how many I could recall (Reagan’s jelly beans; Carter’s peanuts, Clinton’s cheeseburgers, Bush’s pork rinds); others I had to Google. Here’s what I found starting with FDR.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: It’s hard to believe the Hyde Park patrician had a fondness for oozy grilled cheese sandwiches. He also had a fondness for fried chicken with white gravy, hot dogs, and fruitcake.
Harry S Truman: The Man from Missouri preferred Bess’s chocolate cake and her chicken and dumplings and his Mama’s custard pie and fried chicken. Like Donald Trump he wanted his beef well done. Bess liked to bake Ozark Pudding, a gooey, pecan-apple dessert. I’ve made it a few times years ago, but found it overly sweet.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: The much-revered World War II general favored Mamie’s Million Dollar Fudge, which became a popular recipe of the time.
John F. Kennedy: The young president remained true to his New England roots with his preference for Boston clam chowder and ice cream with hot fudge.
Lyndon B. Johnson: LBJ’s passion for the soft drink, Fresca, led him to have a dispenser installed in the Oval Office. Back in Texas he enjoyed Lady Birds’s tapioca pudding, chip beef on toast, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, and German chocolate cake.
Richard M. Nixon: While he loved meatloaf, he had a weird attachment to cottage cheese doused with ketchup. His final lunch in the White House (the resignation lunch) was cottage cheese, pineapple and milk.
Gerald Ford: His comfort food leaned to waffles with strawberries and sour cream, pot roast, and butter pecan ice cream.
Jimmy Carter: The Georgia peanut farmer was always associated with the product he raised. He went for typical Southern fare: cheese grits with red eye gravy, country ham, fried eggs, and cornbread.
Ronald Reagan: Apparently, the Gipper had a sweet tooth and a special affinity for jelly beans—licorice flavored. He had a standing order for more than 300,000 to be distributed through out the White House and other federal buildings each month.
He also enjoyed monkey bread, ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and pumpkin pecan pie.
George H.W. Bush: Pork rinds with Tabasco topped the list of munchies for the elder Bush during his term in the White House. He had a strong dislike for broccoli and after becoming president, declared he didn’t intend to eat another piece.
Bill Clinton: The food most associated with the Arkansas president was jalapeno cheeseburgers. (He became a vegan in 2011.) Hillary, who calls herself a “lousy cook,” noshes on a hot pepper every day—she thinks it helps her immune system. She also enjoys wine ice cream.
George W. Bush: Cheeseburger Pizza—a medley of his favorite ingredients for a cheeseburger placed atop a Margherita pizza.
Barack Obama: The president had a passion for nachos, smoked salt caramels and turkey chili. He often stopped at 5 Guys for burgers.
Donald Trump: The current president out does Bill Clinton in the junk food arena with his desire for Diet Coke, Big Macs, Lays potato chips and Oreos. He loves meatloaf and prefers his steak over cooked.
Only two items on the Mar-a-Lago Thanksgiving menu featured his name: Trump Wedge Salad and Trump Chocolate Cake—his so-called “most beautiful cake in the world.”
A Not Too Surprising Conclusion
So what is there to conclude from this “presidential food investigation?” Our leaders all seem to have a culinary quirk, or two, some bizarre (as with Nixon’s cottage cheese-ketchup hang up); many of their preferences are downright unhealthy. But their desire for the sweet, the salty, the fast, and the familiar is not too unlike their fellow Americans. The good news is that while policy often separates us, food has a way of bringing us together.
What food to you identify with most dearly? Mine would be dark chocolate anything and homemade breads.