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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

In Focus: Thanksgiving

Walter Scheib
November 25, 2003

Walter Scheib
Good morning. This is the beginning of the most popular culinary season of the year. Many people have fond memories of their family dinners and favorite dishes that they have enjoyed over the years during this season. I would like to wish you all a happy holiday season.

Nani, from Arizona writes:
Dear chef Do you ever get tired of cooking? My friend wants to be a cheff too.Do you have any pointers for him?

Walter Scheib
No, I never get tired of cooking. It is something that I have enjoyed since I was a child, and to me it is like playing a musical instrument - it is something that you can do both for pleasure and as a profession. Good training is the key to success. Whether the training is through a culinary school or as an apprentice is up to the individual. Both routes can be very successful.

Gary, from Michigan writes:
My family and I have the same argument every year at Thanksgiving. They prefer some sort of fru-fru cranberry relish - while I like the cranberry sauce out of the can. I know many people think the canned stuff is sort of nasty - what do you serve at Thanksgiving at your house?

Walter Scheib
We make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that has been in my family for a number of years.

Danny, from Maryland writes:
What is with these people who don't eat veal? I like veal. I don't think that killing a cow at an early age is any more cruel than killing an older cow, no? Seriously, it is not like the cow is going to grow up and hang out with friends and stuff and then be killed. The quality of life of a cow can only be so much....right? So - let's hear it for tasty delicious veal.

Walter Scheib
Your stand-up routine is coming along well. Good luck at open mic night.

Jonas, from California writes:
Have you ever served sushi at the White House?

Walter Scheib
Yes, we have served sushi at various receptions over the years.

Peter, from Terre Haute Indiana writes:
Hou many people will you be serving this Thanksgiving? What tips would you give to chefs looking to maker their own home meal extra special?

And for the most important of all, everyone in America is aware of the President's father's aversion to broccoli. Is there a searing expose in President George W. Bush's diet that America needs to know? ;-D

Walter Scheib
Don't try to make dishes that you are not familiar with. Stick with family favorites and prepare them well. Thanksgiving dinner is probably the most traditional of all holiday meals, so try not to impress your friends and family with strange or bizarre recipes.

Louise, from Ohio writes:
Too stuff - or not to stuff? That is the question. I have always stuffed - but have also always read that it can be unsafe. I have guests coming to dinner and do not want anyone to go away ill....thoughts?

Walter Scheib
I would recommend cooking the stuffing separately from the turkey for two reasons: one, it helps avoid the potential of any food borne illnesses due to undercooking the stuffing, and two, it prevents the turkey from being overcooked and dry while you wait for the stuffing to come up to a safe temperature.

Whitney, from Portland writes:
I have read that a chef's knife is his/her most important tool. I have also read that both Germany and Japan make the best knives. Do you prefer German or Japanese cutlery? What sort of knife do you use?

Walter Scheib
Clearly, a knife is very important to a good chef. THe choice of a knife is also a very personal one. You must be comfortable with the way the knife feels in your hand and happy with the performance.

Scott, from Iowa writes:
Do you wear one of those tall chef hats? What is the original purpose of the tall hat?

Walter Scheib
Yes, I do. The original reason, as I understand it, was two-fold. One, as a hair restraint (sanitation), and two, the taller the hat, the higher the position in the kitchen brigade with the head chef wearing the tallest hat.

Matt, from Wake Forest writes:
I had somewhat of a disastrous Thanksgiving last year. I burned the turkey as we were playing our annual football game and I came in about an hour late. Is there anything you can do with a turkey once it is burned? Can you remoisten the meat somehow? Is it possible to "unburn" it? I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you burn your turkey, are you doomed?

We resorted to a canned ham last year and my girlfriend hated me for weeks. It was a lousy Christmas as well because she started dating my best friend.

Walter Scheib
I don't know any way to repair a "burned" turkey. Sorry to hear about your girlfriend.

Pete, from D.C. writes:
What is the President's favorite dish? Do you have the liberty to "challenge" his food-choice habits?

Walter Scheib
All Executive Residence staff has the primary function of making the First Familys life in residence as pleasant and comfortable as possible. We try to live up to all of their expectations of the way in which they would like their home run.

Tracey, from Washington, DC writes:
I am having people over for Thanksgiving and my boyfriend has asked me to make that green-bean-cream-of-mushroom-fried-onion know what I am talking about...I think it is tacky and don't want to serve it to my guests...he says he grew up eating it at holidays. I don't want to upset him - and I don't want to offend my guests...what should I do?

Walter Scheib
THis dish is an old favorite in many families, and I have seen it served many places. If you enjoy it - make it.

Ginny, from Washington writes:
When you travel - do you eat in a city's best restaurants or do you prefer to find hidden gems that might reflect an area's regional foods?

Walter Scheib
In many cases a city's best restaurants are not necessarily the most famous ones, but they are frequently "the hidden gems" and finding these restarurants is always a pleasure.

Kim, from Alton, Illinois writes:
Of all the different kind of stuffings out there -- which is your favorite? I had some apple-sausage stuffing last year. It was awesome.

Walter Scheib
My favorite is one that my mother made and it was made with cornbread and oysters. There are many different kinds, and whichever one you most enjoy is the one you should make.

Sidney, from LA writes:
Is it easier for you to get reservations at great restaurants because you are the White House chef?

Walter Scheib
It is an honor to serve the First Family and I don't use my position as White House chef for my personal gain.

Mike, from Ohio writes:
What is the secret to making great mashed potatos?

Walter Scheib
Good potatoes, good butter, good cream, salt and pepper.

Helen, from Wisconsin writes:
Is there a trend in today's cooking that you find to be out-of-control? I do - all these restaurants are serving dishes with different types of "foam?" Why is that? And what are these foams made of?

Walter Scheib
Many chefs challenge themselves to come up with new techniques and presentations. Some of these work very well, others not so well. How well they work depends on whether you like the result or not.

Gerald, from DC writes:
My wife and I disagree on how to order beef when dining out - I prefer my meat rare - while she orders hers well-done. I think well-done meat has little or no flavor....please help me win a bet with her - how do you order a steak when dining out?

Walter Scheib
Again, food is very personal. How you prefer your steak cooked is your choice. I personally enjoy mine medium-rare.

Nina, from Lincoln, Nebraska writes:
Clearly, cooking and meals for the White House become symbolic elements of the Presidency. In what way do you personally feel involved in the presentation of the State? Have there been any particular instances when something you did strongly reflected the imageideas of the country?

Thank you.

Walter Scheib
State Dinners probably reflect the First Lady's idea of what she wants to represent as an image of American entertaining to the guest country. "American" cuisine is made up of influences from all cultures represented in the American population. So, when a guest country visits many times flavors and cooking techniques which might be native to the guest country may be used in preparation of the State Dinner.

Jim, from Abilene writes:
Chef As a amateur historian, I read with interest that one of President Jefferson's favorite foods were "filled pannequaiques." What the heck are those?

Walter Scheib
I don't know, but I would hazard a guess that they may be filled pancakes or crepes. Just a guess...

Billy, from Tucson, AZ writes:
Chef Scheib - I loved your last chat - I am not much of a chef - but have a tip for you about my family stuffing reciepe - rather than a tradional cornbread stuffing - we use chopped-up turkey corndogs. They have turkey in them and are coated with delicious cornbread. I am confident this is something the President may enjoy. Do you know if the President enjoys corndogs?

Walter Scheib
This is a new recipe to me, but if you like it - enjoy.

Ray, from Bowie, MD writes:
How can I get the recipe for your holiday lamb?

Walter Scheib
Ask Claire when she gets home. She will tell you all about it.

Carrie, from Montreal writes:
What do you do when the President and Mrs Bush are not in the Residence for an extensive period of time?

Walter Scheib
We use this time to plan upcoming functions, test recipes, conduct deep-cleaning of the kitchen.

Bob, from Nevada writes:
Chef Scheib, I've always been told that paprika is an aphrodisiac. Any truth to this? I hope so.

Walter Scheib
This may explain the popularity of deviled eggs.

Marilyn, from Albuquerque writes:
Hey Chef

This is my specialty for steamed yuca. What do you think? Steamed Yuca with Mojo 3 pounds frozen yuca 10 cloves garlic 4 cups oregano leaves Juice of 2 limes

Cup olive oil Cup freshly squeezed orange juice 18 teaspoon cumin Salt and pepper to taste Steam the yuca in the basket of a vegetable steamer over medium-high heat for 30 minutes.

Puree the garlic, oregano, lime juice, olive oil, orange juice, cumin, salt, and pepper in the jar of a blender or in a food processor fitted. Serve yuca hot with mojo sauce.

Walter Scheib
Thanks for the suggestion. I will give it a try.

Dawn, from Temple writes:
What is the best way to thaw a turkey? The last thing I want is to do it wrong and end up dead on Thanksgiving.

Walter Scheib
Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator for a day or so until thawed. But, I suggest buying a fresh, not frozen turkey to solve your problem and help you see future Thanksgivings.

Tim, from Alexandria, VA writes:
When the President is hosting a state dinner or other events with foreign dignitaries, have you been faced with cultural or religious dietary restrictions that make preparation of the meal very difficult? For example, President Bush recently hosted a group of Muslim leaders at the beginning of Ramadan. Did that event present a challenge to you and your staff?

Thank you

Walter Scheib
Making sure that all religious and dietary concerns are addressed is a large part of our job in the White House kitchen.

Fran, from Takoma Park writes:
Is it safe to eat all the giblets? I love the liver and gizzards, but what about the heart?

Walter Scheib
All giblets are safe to eat if cooked properly.

Connor, from Denver writes:
Chef Scheib -- what is your personal favorite Thanksgiving side dish? And what Thanksgiving side dish would you prefer not to eat?

Walter Scheib
It always goes back to family favorites - a side dish my mother prepared that I remember well was a very simple one - mashed turnips. It is something I look forward to each year.

Chris, from Mechanicsville writes:
I know you can fry and bake a turkey, but can you boil a turkey -- would you recommend it?

Walter Scheib
It is probably not the best way to cook a turkey and I have never seen it done. But if you want to give it a try, ok. My guess is that it not look very appetizing and probably be very dry.

Jerry, from writes:
I am going to grill my Thanksgiving turkey. The bird will be unstuffed, although I am filling the cavity with a studded onion and a variety of herbs. How much time should I allow per pound when grilling. I appreciate your taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my question.



Walter Scheib
I'm not sure what you mean by "grilling". It sounds like you are cooking it on a rotisserie. If you are, cook it until the juices at the leg joint with the body of the turkey are clear or golden (not red).

Jason, from Nevada writes:
I am looking at your picture on the web page - what exactly are you doing in that photo? It looks like you are sticking a tooth-pick into a taco salad. That can't be right, is it?

Walter Scheib
I am arranging a salad that is served in a Asiago tuille.

Rebecca, from Ohio writes:
I've seen a lot of chefs on TV chop vegetables by holding the veggie with the fingers curled under, and then the knife passes just shy of the knuckles. I have not been able to master this because I can't keep a good grip on the veggie with my fingers curled under. Is there some trick to this technique?

Walter Scheib
Lots of practice. THis is the accepted technique and it works very well. But be prepared to cut yourself - we all have.

Rita, from NY writes:
I prefer my steaks rare. Saying that is it possible to serve turkey rare as well? Is it dangerous?

Walter Scheib
I would not recommend this.

Matthew, from Chapel Hill, N.C. writes:
Chef Scheib, What is your favorite dessert to make for state dinners, or what dessert is most requested for state dinners?


Matt Vail

Walter Scheib
Chef Roland Mesnier prepares all of the desserts at the White House. He will be online in the near future.

Karina, from East Hampton, CT writes:
How much does the White House's Thanksgiving turkey weigh?

Walter Scheib
45 lbs.

Michele, from New Jersey writes:
How do you prepare food for special guests who keep kosher?

Walter Scheib
Kosher food is available to all guests at the White House.

Christina, from Harrisburg, PA writes:
How do you seat guests at white house dinners? I am very curious.

Walter Scheib
The Social Office coordinates all of the seating at State Dinners.

Francesco, from Milan, Italy writes:
Mr. Scheib, recently italian President Ciampi and Prime Minister Berlusconi were guests of the President at the White House. I love, obviously, cousine of my country. What did you prepare for those guests of the President, that I Know had lunch at the White House? I also know that PM Berlusconi loves very much to taste flavors of other countries. And also... do you like italian cousine? Thank you very much.

Walter Scheib
The first course consisted of grilled scallops with herbed polenta with corn and pancetta sauce. We prepared a main course of smoked ribeye steak with pinto bean chipotle ragout with whipped sweet potatoes and fall vegetables. This was followed by a mache, avocade and tomato salad with lemon-thyme dressing. Chef Mesnier prepared a dessert of cherry savarin with honey-vanilla ice cream.

Debbie, from Indiana writes:
Do you ever publish recipes? Thank you.

Walter Scheib

Jason, from Nevada (AGAIN) writes:
Ok - it isn't a taco salad - what is a tuille?

Walter Scheib
Somebody is actually listening out there! In this case, the tuille is a finely graded Asiago cheese with a touch of flour sprinkled thinly in a hot non-stick pan, cooked until golden on one side, turned and cooked on the other side, removed from the pan, and let cool over a form.

Chris, from Lafayette, IN writes:
Chef: My husband loves cornbread stuffing. He would like to have sausagecornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving. I have never made any dressingstuffing. Do you have a recipe, or any suggestions? Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving

Walter Scheib
There are many, many cookbooks that have traditional holiday recipes. I suggest you find one you are comfortable with, try the recipe before the "Big day" and if you like it, use it.

Howard, from New Jersey writes:
Do you enjoy doing these chats? I think they are great and provide us "little people" a glimpse into a place we can only imagine. It must be very special and rewarding to work in such a place. I hope you enjoy your work serving so many important people. And please keep participating in these chats. I think you last chat was the most refreshing.

Walter Scheib
It is always fun to find out what people think is interesting and what type of questions they ask.

Shannon, from Pennsylvania writes:
How long dose it take you to prepare dinners for big events at the White House?

Walter Scheib
From the time we find out about a State Dinner until the time it is actually served can be as long as three months. During this time, recipes are tested and refined.

Katherine, from Washington, DC writes:
Is there anything you can tell us about the gingerbread house you'll be creating for the holidays this year? Seeing what you've done with the house is one of my favorite parts of the season.

Walter Scheib
Again, please check back with Chef Mesnier next month.

Valerie, from Utah writes:
In being the chef at the White house, do you really get into politics? Thanks for answering my question.

Walter Scheib
No, all Residence staff members serve the First Family and check our politics at the door.

Kenny, from Montgomery, AL writes:
What are the President and First Lady's favorite meals? And what would you consider your "specialty?"

Walter Scheib
This is a frequently asked question - I think that most good chefs would say that their specialty is exceeding guest expectations and providing a a memorable experience for the guests.

Walter Scheib
Thank you for all of the interesting questions. I hope the answers have been enlightening. I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and watch out for the "corndog stuffing".

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