Saturday, June 08, 2013

President Obama Hosts Dinner For President Xi At Sunnylands; Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay Cooks

The "lively" dinner at the desert estate caps the first day of the Summit...
UPDATE, June 12: The full menu has been revealed, and is also reprinted below
Rancho Mirage, California President Obama hosted a closed-press, two-hour working dinner for China's President Xi Jinping at the 200-acre Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands late on Friday evening, July 7th.  Celebrity chef Bobby Flay created the menu for what a top White House advisor described as a "very lively dinner" for sixteen, where the two leaders reached a major agreement involving global security.  (Above, on Saturday morning, the two Presidents strolled the grounds in scorching heat)

The White House announced the Flay news on Saturday after the Sunnylands Summit ended when President Xi departed shortly after noon.
"President Obama and President Xi ate dinner Friday night cooked on location at Sunnylands by celebrity chef Bobby Flay," a White House official said.

"The menu included lobster tamales, porterhouse steak and cherry pie." 

Against that delicious backdrop, much was accomplished, according to the President's National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who attended the 8:55 PM dinner and gave a briefing on Saturday.  President Xi, 59, the leader of China's Communist Party, took office in March, and the Sunnylands Summit was his first face-to-face meeting with President Obama.  (Above, the Presidents meeting before the dinner; no photos from inside the dinner were released)

The Presidents' "very lively dinner" included a "lengthy conversation" about North Korea, among other topics, Donilon said.  He visited Beijing between May 26-28 to do advance prep for the Summit, and said it was specifically designed to offer the leaders an opportunity for personal interaction before next September's G20 Summit in Russia.  

"Over dinner, we discussed a full range of bilateral issues, including security issues," Donilon said, noting that North Korean issues led to "a significant discussion" about "a key area for U.S.-China enhanced cooperation."

The dinner came after the two Presidents met for three hours earlier on Friday to discuss issues key to the world's two most powerful economies.  Guests at the white-tablecloth affair in the dining room of the mid-century modern estate included members of the US and Chinese delegations, including Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Presidents "agreed that North Korea has to denuclearize; that neither country will accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state; and that we would work together to deepen U.S.-China cooperation and dialogue to achieve denuclearization," Donilon said.  

The discussions took place at a long table set with eight place settings of fine china on each side, accompanied by a water glass and two wine glasses.  Floral centerpieces ran down the center of the table, pool reported.  Crystal and gold candelabras bearing tall tapers and art and sculpture surrounded the table.  The dinner concluded at 10:44 PM, according to Donilon.

Chinese Officials accompanying President Xi to the summit included Wang Yi, Foreign Minister;  Zheng Zeguang, Assistant Foreign Minister; Yang Jiechi, State Councilor; Cui Tiankai, Chinese Ambassador to the United States; and Wang Huning and Li Zhanshu, high-ranking members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

During the Summit, President Xi invited President Obama to visit China.  The details for a future visit are still being worked out, Donilon said.

A Food Network star, restaurateur and cookbook author, Flay, 48, is famous for his grill skills, and has visited the White House and cooked with President Obama's chefs.  He's also the single celebrity chef to actually cook at an event with the President, joining him in 2009 to grill steak and corn cobs on the South Lawn for a Father's Day barbecue (above).

In 2010, Flay was teamed with White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford for an appearance on the TV show Iron Chef: Super Chef Battle, and the duo handily trumped their famous competition.

Since taking office in 2009, the President has chosen beef as the entree for almost all of his high-profile dinners at the White House, and his love for pie is now well known.  First Lady Michelle Obama, who did not accompany her husband to the Summit, recently announced that steak is the President's favorite Friday night dinner at the White House, a tradition he has carried outside 1600 Penn.   

Carefully crafted with the help of President Obama's aides, Flay's menu was something of a White House go-to for guests from China.  President Obama also served lobster, steak and pie to President Xi's predecessor, President Hu Jintao, when he honored him with a State Dinner at the White House in January of 2011.  Dubbed a "quintessentially American menu," it featured poached Maine lobster as the second course, Dry Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions as the entree, and Old Fashioned Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream as the desert.

And when Xi visited Washington in February of 2012 as Vice President, he was served steak at a Valentine's Day dinner hosted by Vice President Joe Biden at the Naval Observatory.

Unlike Hu, "President Xi is no stranger to the United States," President Obama said during a joint press conference on Friday.  "He’s remembered fondly in Iowa, where he once visited and stayed with a local family, and on his trip last year, he had a chance to come to California -- including, I understand, going to a Lakers game, which I was very jealous of."  

Tea with President Xi, and a special gift...
President Obama had tea with President Xi and his wife, the First Lady of China, Madame Peng Liyuan, on Saturday morning ahead of the Chinese leader's departure.  He also presented President Xi with a special gift to commemorate the Summit, a custom-designed bench made of California Redwood.  It was inscribed in English and Mandarin.  (Above, the Presidents on the bench)

"Presented to His Excellency Xi Jinping President of the People's Republic of China/By Barack Obama President of the United States/Sunnylands Annenberg Estate/June7-8, 2013" reads the inscription in English.

The two Presidents sat on the bench during their 50-minute stroll on Saturday, as they walked by beds of cacti and roses named for former First Ladies.  They were accompanied only by interpreters.

President Xi took the bench with him as he departed, according to Donilon, rather than having it shipped home to China.  

President Obama was scheduled to return to the White House on Sunday evening.  He was also accompanied to Sunnylands by personal friends from his high school years in Hawaii, Mike Ramos, Greg Orme and Bobby Titcomb.

Constructed in the mid-1960s, Sunnylands was formerly the home of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, and designed by acclaimed mid-century modern architect A. Quincy Jones. Its expansive, open-plan rooms have a color scheme mirroring the brighter elements of the Southern California desert landscape, especially the rosy hues of sunset over the San Jacinto mountains that ring the Coachella Valley.  (Above, the Presidents during their Saturday walk)

The estate features a nine-hole golf course, a swimming pool, a private screening room, and other lavish appointments, and has been used as a place for international summits since the Annenbergs passed away.  

"Many key figures of the 20th century enjoyed relaxing as guests at Sunnylands," notes the website for the historic estate.  "The list includes seven U.S. presidents, the British royal family, and Hollywood icons like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, and many others."

Sunnylands was chosen specifically to help the two Presidents get to know each other in an informal environment, Donilon said.

"We had as a goal, a specific goal to build a personal relationship between the President and President Xi, and have an opportunity not under the pressure of being on the margins of another multilateral meeting to really sit down and explore the contours of the U.S.-China relationship," Donilon said.

Update, June 12:  The White House did not issue a complete menu, but instead the CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards, Joy Sterling, shared the complete menu when noting that the vineyard's Chinese "Year of the Snake" Cuvee (2004) was served with two courses.  The sparkling wine, with a 96 point rating from Wine Enthusiast, retails for $98/bottle from the vineyard.

President Obama's Sunnylands Summit Dinner Menu 
For President Xi

Hors d'Oeuvres
BBQ Duck 
With Green Tomato Relish in Crisp Lettuce

Yellowtail Poke, Hawaiian Flavors 
On a Taro Chip

Maryland Crab 
With Crispy Squash Blossoms on Grilled Toast

Eggplant Crostini 
With New Orleans Flavors

Wine: Iron Horse Chinese "Year of the Snake" Cuvee (2004)

First Course
New Mexican Lobster Tamale 

With Roasted Corn Sauce and Green Chiles

Wine: Iron Horse Chinese "Year of the Snake" Cuvee (2004)

Main Course
Porterhouse of American Beef 
With Smoked Steak Sauce

New Potatoes 
With Napa Valley Goat Cheese, Meyer Lemon, Honey, & Whole Grain Mustard

Fava Beans & Asparagus


Individual California Cherry Pies
Kentucky Bourbon, Vanilla, Mint Ice Cream

Chocolates & Cookies

Update, June 9th:  On Sunday, Flay posted a photo of the cherry pies ostensibly from his Summit dinner menu on his @BFlay Twitter account, which has 853,148 followers.  Indeed, there are 16 little pies in the photo, the same as the number of guests.

"Cherry pies fit for a President. @barackobama," Flay tweeted (sic) with the photo.


*Photos for the Chinese government news service Xinhuu by Lan Hongguang.  Flay pie photo via @Bflay.