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State dinner chef tweets about 'day of creation'

About 200 guests had coveted invitations for the four-course dinner in the East Room, complete with a celebrity contingent that included Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria Parker, George Lopez and Olympic speedskater Shani Davis.

world Updated: May 20, 2010 20:22 IST

"Got my fingers crossed there are no hitches." And with that tweet, Rick Bayless, a Chicago chef adored by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for his way with Mexican food, dashed to the White House to finish preparations for Wednesday's state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

The same could be said for the entire White House staff - anxious to pull off a flawless event after Obama's first state dinner six months ago was overshadowed by an uninvited husband-and-wife couple who somehow slipped through security.

As guests streamed in, Mrs. Obama and the president greeted the Mexican first couple on the North Portico of the White House. Mrs. Obama wore a one-shoulder, shimmery, royal blue floor-length gown, with a wide silver belt and dangling silvery earrings, while Margarita Zavala arrived in a plum-colored gown with a squarish neckline bordered in blue.

About 200 guests had coveted invitations for the four-course dinner in the East Room, complete with a celebrity contingent that included Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria Parker, George Lopez and Olympic speedskater Shani Davis.

Goldberg said it felt like she was "coming home after a long drought." She explained she'd been a frequent visitor during the Clinton years, but during the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, "I wasn't here."

Lopez proudly announced he had been told he was sitting with the president. "They didn't tell me which one," he joked. Longoria Parker talked policy, saying it was an important time to be holding such a dinner with Mexican leaders, given the hot temperatures over immigration right now.

"You can't have these states doing their own punitive laws," she insisted, referring to the tough immigration law approved in Arizona.

Obama and Calderon launched the dinner with a toast to the friendship of their two nations. Obama, in toasting Mexico's contributions to the world, singled out "some very good food, including the food of the gods - chocolate." Calderon, for his part, congratulated the American people "for having a president like Barack Obama," and congratulated Obama "for having a wife and first lady like Michelle Obama."

A larger group of guests was arriving later in the evening for dessert and after-dinner entertainment inside a big white tent on the South Lawn, where Grammy Award winner Beyonce and the Mexican singing duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela were set to perform. The dinner was a coming-out party of sorts for new White House social secretary Julianna Smoot, who gave a quick wave and sprinted away when reporters called out for her to stop and chat.

Smoot's predecessor, Desiree Rogers, resigned earlier this year; she'd been criticized for her high-profile approach to the job. After the gate-crashing incident, the White House promised tighter security this time around and they delivered. One woman was turned away because she didn't have proper ID, but she and her husband returned about an hour later and got in. Kathryne Mudge said her husband, Arturo Valenzuela, an assistant secretary of state, was supposed to bring the necessary identification.

"We tried to be extra careful, but my husband is the absent-minded professor," she said.
Bayless, guest chef for the dinner at the invitation of Mrs. Obama, arrived in Washington two days early to start getting ready. Dinner opened with a salad of jicama with oranges, grapefruit and pineapple, followed by herb green seviche of Hawaiian opah. The main course of Oregon wagyu beef came with a Oaxacan black mole sauce that Bayless says uses more than 20 ingredients and takes days to come together. Grilled green beans and black bean tamalon will accompany the main course.

Chocolate cajeta tart with toasted homemade marshmallows was on the dessert menu, along with a graham cracker crumble made with honey from the White House beehive and goat cheese ice cream. Herbs, radishes and lettuces from Mrs. Obama's garden on the South Lawn were used for the meal.

The two presidents and their wives were sitting at a rectangular head table, with guests at a mix of rectangular and round tables draped in three shades of Mayan blue to simulate rippling water. Bouquets of fuchsia flowers, including roses and orchids, and prickly pear cactus were made into centerpieces. Guests will eat off from the Clinton china.

Another 104 guests were joining the party for after-dinner entertainment in a tent decked out with tiered seating and a dance floor. Guests walking into the room will get the feel of Monarch butterflies in flight. The White House said that decor was chosen to honor Calderon's birthplace of Michoacan, Mexico, where the butterfly's annual migration from Canada ends each spring. The duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero formed in Mexico City but moved to Dublin after becoming frustrated with the late '90s Mexican music scene. They are known for dueling acoustic guitar instrumentals that blend heavy metal sounds with Latin rhythms.

The Obamas' first state dinner, for India's prime minister last November, was notable for its size more than 300 guests dining underneath a large tent on the South Lawn and Mrs. Obama's shimmery strapless evening gown. But it's also remembered for the security breach that allowed a northern Virginia couple who weren't on the guest list to slip into the White House and shake hands with the president.

First Published: May 20, 2010 20:20 IST