'Aapka Swagat Hai' Said Obama, Flavour Of India At First State Dinner

It was a taste of India at President Barack Obama's First State Dinner, where he welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Hindi and treated him to a range of vegetarian delicacies, including dishes prepared with
aapka swagat hai said obama flavour of india at...
PTI November 25, 2009 12:35 IST

It was a taste of India at President Barack Obama's First State Dinner, where he welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Hindi and treated him to a range of vegetarian delicacies, including dishes prepared with herbs from the White House kitchen garden.

Even before the state guest Singh and more than 300 other invitees were served some of the Indian delicacies at the huge tent pitched at the South Lawns of the White House, Obama set the tone by greeting in Hindi 'Aaapka Swagat Hai' (You are welcome).

Some of the dishes were prepared by the White House chef from the kitchen garden of the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

To begin with, the guests were served 'Potato and Eggplant Salad, White House Arugula With Onion Seed Vinaigrette',  followed by 'Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cheese.'

Then the guests were treated to 'Roasted Potato Dumplings With Tomato Chutney Chick Peas and Okra', 'Green Curry Prawns Caramelized Salsify with Smoked Collard Greens' and 'Coconut Aged Basmati'.

'Pumpkin Pie Tart Pear Tatin Whipped Cream and Caramel Sauce' was on their desert; and finally they were served 'Petits Fours and Coffee Cashew Brittle Pecan Pralines Passion Fruit and Vanilla Gelees Chocolate-Dipped Fruit.' 

According to the White House, Michelle Obama worked with Guest Chef Marcus Samuelsson and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and her team to create a menu that also reflected the best of American cuisine, continuing with the White House's commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food, and honouring the culinary excellence and flavours that are present in Indian cuisine.

White House Executive Pastry Chef William Yosses and his team created the desserts, including pears poached in honey from the White House beehives.

Desserts were garnished with mint and lemon verbena grown in the White House kitchen garden.

The guests were seated at round tables for ten, covered in apple green linens. Deep purple flower arrangements at each table reminded of India's national bird -- Peacock.

The centrepiece bouquets were composed of flowers evocative of a classic American garden: hydrangea, garden roses, and sweet peas in a rich palette of deep plum, purple and fuchsia.

Arrangements of magnolia branches surround the walls of the tent as magnolias are native to both India and the US. The magnolia, ivy, and nandina foliage used for the occasion are locally grown and sustainably harvested.

After the dinner, the bouquets will be recycled and re-used throughout the White House.

The decor reflected the Obamas' dedication to green and sustainable elements and featured a garden theme.

Through the tent, guests had views of the South Lawn Fountain, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Monument.

The tables were set with china from the White House's historic collection, including 'Service Plates   Eisenhower' which were acquired in 1955.

President Dwight Eisenhower was the first American President to visit India after its independence.

Similarly there were 'Service Plates - Clinton State China Service' and 'Dinner Plates - George W Bush State China Service'.

Singh had the distinction of being invited to State Dinners twice -- the first one during the previous Bush regime.

The first State Dinner for a foreign head of State was held by President Ulysses S. Grant on December 12, 1874 for King David Kalakaua of Hawaii.

Since then, many traditions have been added to State and Official Visits   yet the common theme of forging friendships, exchanging knowledge and building bridges remain unchanged, a White House fact sheet said.

Previous State Dinners at the White House in honour of India include those hosted by President George W Bush in 2005; Bill Clinton in 2000, Ronald Reagan in 1985 and 1982; Lyndon B Johnson in 1966; and John Kennedy in 1963.

Obama tried on Tuesday to calm India's fears about Asian rival China, salving bruised feelings in the world's largest democracy with an elaborate state visit and assurances of India's "rightful place as a global leader."

The White House was eager to show that, despite what some Indians see as a lack of attention during Obama's first 10 months, it valued Singh's country as a crucial partner in dealing with extremists in South Asia, in settling international trade and global warming pacts and in steering the world economy out of turmoil.

Indians, reports AP,  were looking for Obama to reverse a perception that he neglected India during his recent trip to Asia and seemed to endorse a stronger role for China in India's sensitive dealings with Pakistan.

Obama's words sought to re-establish the strong feelings of good will the countries enjoyed during George W. Bush's presidency.  Bush is credited with transforming the relationship after decades of Cold War-era distrust.

The black-tie party for more than 300, featuring a mostly vegetarian meal of curry prawns, aged basmati rice, eggplant salad, lentil soup, potato dumplings and other delicacies served under a giant tent on the South Lawn, was Washington's premier must-have invite. 

Menu, decor and attendance details - each designed to celebrate Indian culture and delight Indian guests - were kept tightly held until just hours before guests arrived in their finery.

The 338-person guest list on Tuesday night was a mix of wonky Washington, Hollywood A-listers, prominent figures from the Indian community in the US, and Obama friends, family and campaign donors.

Dinner guests were treated to an eye-catching scheme of green and purple, from the green curry surrounding the prawns to the purple floral arrangements paying homage to the peacock, India's national bird. 

Hours before guests arrived and in keeping with tradition, Mrs. Obama previewed the glamorous table settings in the State Dining Room. That's often the venue for such dinners, but not this time.

Instead, in an effort to show Singh how much the US values relations with his country, the Obamas decided to serve dinner in a huge white tent on the South Lawn, with views of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial through clear panels.

President Barack Obama, in his dinner toast, said the setting conjured images of India, where special events were celebrated "under the cover of a beautiful tent."

Singh, in turn, told the president he was overwhelmed by the Obamas' hospitality and said the president's election last year had been an inspiration to millions of Indians.

From the playing of national anthems, to repeatedly glowing remarks, to the last dinner toast, there was one theme: India was top on the priority list for America.

Guests were seated 10 apiece at round tables draped in green apple-coloured cloths and napkins, offset by the sparkle of gold-coloured flatware and china, including service and dinner plates from the Eisenhower, Clinton and George W. Bush settings.

Floral arrangements of hydrangeas, roses and sweet peas in plum, purple and fuschia evoked India's state bird.

Magnolia branches native to both India and the U.S. adorned the tent's inside walls, along with ivy and nandina foliage.

Mrs. Obama brought in award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York City, to help White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford and her staff prepare the largely vegetarian meal. Singh is a vegetarian.

Guests with ties to India included spiritual adviser Deepak Chopra, movie director M. Night Shyamalan and PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.

 
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