I'd like to tell you that it was all sunshine and roses and that Mrs. Obama and I sat and discussed fashion and food while sipping tea in the Rose Garden. But of course, I can't.
The event was essentially a mass photo call to catch The First Lady with a group of chefs dedicated to the progression of her program (which isn't a bad thing, though I may seem like I'm grumbling -- I'm not).
I arrived in DC a little later than expected due to Marc train delays. No biggie - I was headed to the breakfast sponsored by Share Our Strength, a terrific organization. Because of my tardiness, I needed to sit in an overflow room to hear the speakers (via video) - the ballroom was full.
The speakers were actually really great and motivating. I especially enjoyed Bill Telepan, who owns a restaurant in NYC and volunteers at his daughter's school and beyond. He was sassy and fun and obviously into the work of teaching kids about healthier food, as was everyone on the panel.
After breakfast, we started to walk to The White House. It was starting to warm up quite a bit, but with the excitement in the air, it wasn't a problem. We formed a queue outside the gate and waited for everything to open.I was actually toward the beginning of the line.
We passed through two checkpoints and showed our id and had our names checked off a list -- a really, really long list. Then we went into a small building to have everything x-rayed and metal detected. It was quick and without doubt, everyone was super friendly. From there, we were allowed to walk the grounds (within reason of course) until the program started at 12.
It was warming up quite a bit at this point, and there wasn't a ton of shade, so after the all-but required photo op:
I strolled down to the WH garden to take a look. Not too shabby, eh?
I was really feeling the heat and started looking for water. It's the White House, right? Of course they would have tons and tons of water for everyone, especially because we were all wearing our heavy long-sleeved chef coats over our clothes. Not so much. One of the two water coolers down by the garden was completely empty. The other still had a bit of water, so I snagged a cup and moved on. No sense drinking the 8 cups I wanted with so many folks there in a similar situation. But I felt a little better (ah-middle age...), so all was good.
We progressed up to the South Lawn at the appointed time and sat down. There was lots of ohhh & ahhhing and celeb chef sightings. What really surprised me were all of the bold-face names I saw. Initially, I really thought that this event was specifically targeted to include cooks, chefs, & instructors who worked with kids, which is why I was so excited. But it really was more inclusive than that. In line, I stood beside a rep from The James Beard House and another from the National Restaurant Association. It seemed like anyone who had anything to do food in any aspect was there.
Chefs/TV personalities I recognized included: Daniel Boulud, Ellie Krieger, Aaron McCargo Jr., Carla Hall, Cat Cora, Art Smith (looking saucy in a semi-sheer shirt), Anne Burrell (a personal fave in a super cute floral dress) and, well, I've blanked on the others, but the list goes on and on. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there. Counts varied anywhere from 500 to 1,000. WOW!
One of the encouraging facts that I heard was that over 900 chefs, cooks, & instructors have already signed up to adopt a school. I'm glad to hear that, because I would hate to think that the folks in attendance weren't really there to support the program.
That said, Mrs. Obama is a wonderful speaker. She has grace and elegance and brings you into her cause with her enthusiasm. I am thrilled that I had a chance to hear her speak in person. I believe it was a once in a lifetime chance for me, and I am as dedicated to teaching kids as I ever have been.
Originally, I intended on going to lunch with the crew from IACP (International Assoc. of Culinary Professionals). But we were running behind schedule and I was afraid that I would miss my train home (brain dead alert - it never crossed my mind that I could take a later train home - duh!), so I skipped it. Instead I strolled down PA Ave and had lunch outside at The Willard Hotel by myself. In the shade, and with lots and lots of water. It was lovely.
So, was it worth the trip? For me living so close? Absolutely. As the event got closer and closer, I started to realize that this would be much, much larger than originally thought. That many hundreds of cooks would be in attendance and that it would be more of a cattle call, and I mean that in the very nicest way. So I had adjusted my expectations and came out of it feeling good and ready to continue my work with the schools. I'm waiting to hear what school I'm paired up with, but I'm hoping it's Monocacy Elementary, as I've been working there a bunch this year and they've just planted a new school garden, which is something new to get excited about.
My prize possession from the trip?
My Presidential Seal Styrofoam cup of course. :)