Feeding the President of the United States and the First Family is no easy task. If you haven’t heard yet, it’s a responsibility that has been held by a Filipina for more than 10 years.
Meet Cristeta Pasia Comerford, the White House’s first Asian female Executive Chef.
Comerford was appointed to the position by then-First Lady Laura Bush on August 14, 2005. She succeeded Walter Scheib III, who first recruited her to serve as assistant chef for the Clinton administration.
On January 2009, she was reappointed by First Lady Michelle Obama for her passion and emphasis on healthy eating, according to Food Network.
Comerford is a native of Sampaloc, Manila. She completed her secondary education at Manila Science High School. Later, she attended the University of the Philippines, where she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Food Technology. However, she did not get the degree as she left for the United States half-way through college.
“My family moved [to Chicago] from Manilla in 1983. My first job was a salad bar girl. At the time when I was working, it wasn’t one of those glamorous jobs or anything you’d really aspire for.” She told The Film Archive.
Nevertheless, Comerford knew from an early age what she wanted to do with her future. She told Philippine News (via GMA News):
“My mom was my first instructor in cooking. I remember being on the second grade, getting up early to help her cook. I was always in the sideline, with all the other women in our family, helping her prepare food. I said to myself, ‘This is what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a cook.'”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Comerford first worked in Chicago-area hotels such as the Sheraton and Hyatt Regency near O’Hare airport. She then served at Le Grande Bistro at the Westin Hotel in Washington before making it to the White House through Scheib.
Comerford acknowledges the fact that her job is more than just cooking. She told CNN:
“I think of the skills you need to be a White House chef, talent is number one. But at the same time, temperance and the way you treat your co-workers would be up there as well. At the end of the day, whatever you do and whatever your mission is, it’s only successful because of your team.
“When you work hard as the president, no matter who you are, my job as the White House chef is to make sure that when they get home they’re very comfortable, and they’re happy with the food they’re served.”
Her attention to individual diners is truly commendable, too:
“It’s really a matter of knowing each of them individually: Do they like their pizza with thick or thin crusts? What vegetables do they prefer? That kind of thing.”
Former First Lady Laura Bush has praised Comerford in the past for her versatility.
“She did make things that [George W. Bush] would like — like chicken fried steak. But she could also do things that were appropriate for our foreign guests during state dinners.” Bush told CBS.
With great experience, Comerford has a long list of healthy and delicious recipes under her belt, some of which include Seared Lamb Loin on Chickpea Puree, Cauliflower Gratin and Shrimp, Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice.
She also adheres to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to ensure healthy and balanced meals under her watch.