Scene in D.C.: Michelle Obama Feeds Young Would-Be Chefs

“Now I actually like vegetables,” said Barack Obama during yesterday’s Kids’ State Dinner at the White House.

“When I was a kid, my family would just boil them,” the president said. “They tasted horrible because they were all mush. Nobody wanted to eat a pea or a Brussels sprout.”

The event, in its second year, is part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to combat child obesity. It fed more than 50 children who won the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a recipe contest sponsored by the food and cooking website Epicurious.

Their parents tagged along as did a few other adults like White House assistant chef Sam Kass and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The luncheon is designed to resemble a state dinner, with a receiving line, a seated meal in the East Room and entertainment.

“This is about giving you the foundation to fly high and dream big,” said the first lady, in a yellow sleeveless dress, to the aspiring chefs, who ranged in age from 8 to 12. The 54 winners were selected from a pool of 1,300.

“It’s about eating healthy, but it’s also about working hard in school,” she said. “Because my second question is, how are your grades?”

Michelle Obama relaxed the state dinner etiquette for her young guests: “It’s OK to eat with your fingers. The first lady has said that it is OK.”

Winning Recipes

The luncheon consisted of some of the winning recipes: zucchini corn bread, spring rolls, mini-vegetarian pizzas with cauliflower crust, veggie barley salad, banana muffins, a fruit bowl and strawberry-banana smoothies.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” said Kass, a contest judge, before the lunch began. He recalled being a youngster in the kitchen, learning to cook baked apple pancakes for his mother.

Vilsack says he and his wife have tried to teach their sons to make pies from scratch. “I like to use butter for the crust; she likes to use lard.”

He said the recipe contest motivates young people to become more aware of food issues and will make them “better consumers.”

Olivia Beauchesne, 12, of New Hampshire, won for her “Liv’s Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich.” The first lady “was very nice. She said she was very proud of me.”

Full Dinner

Olivia said her next cooking challenge would be experimenting with “cupcakes, and I’d like to do a full dinner.”

Taddy Pettit, 10, of Illinois, was a winner with his “Black Bean Wrap with Jicama-Grilled Corn Salsa.” He started cooking with his stepfather, Ryan Rogiers, who attended the lunch. “I’m hoping for a professional tennis player,” said the elder Pettit, about his son’s talents outside the kitchen.

After the luncheon, the junior chefs were given a tour of the White House garden, where the first lady grows her vegetables.

(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton and Richard Vines on dining, Greg Evans on TV.

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