Did you know that Filipino-American Cristeta Comerford is the first woman — and first minority — to become the White House Executive Chef? She has held this role since 2005 when she was appointed by First Lady Laura Bush. When President Barack Obama took office, First Lady Michelle Obama chose to retain Comerford stating: “[She] brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded .. Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families (New York Post).”
The road to becoming executive chef:
The road to Comerford’s position as the White House Executive Chef was not planned. It all began when she emigrated to the United States (at age 23) after dropping out of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. (There, she was majoring in Food Technology.) Upon arriving, Comerford took a not-so-coveted kitchen job at a Chicago airport hotel –
I worked [as a] garde manger (at the Sheraton Hotel in Rosemont) and learned how important it is to organize, work clean and work ahead. – Daily Herald
From there, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked at a couple of restaurants and further developed her culinary talent. Then in 1995, White House executive chef Walter Scheib III asked her to join his team under the Clinton Administration. Three years later, as Scheib was leaving to open his own restaurant, he asked Comerford to follow him:
“When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to open the door and grab it. The sous chef at the White House was leaving to open a restaurant. Walter Scheib, the chef at the time, said, ‘Hey Cris, are you interested?’ At that time, I had my own restaurant in D.C., The Colonnade, but I knew this would be a great opportunity and honor. So I took the position. That was back in ‘98. In 2005 the Bushes installed me as their executive chef.” – Comerford, Interview with Real Simple
The appointment to executive chef came after a menu tasting and other hoops (including a review of over 400 applicants), of course. Nevertheless, that first opportunity was key. Comerford was on her way to becoming the first woman and minority White House executive chef upon seizing it!