The pomp and pageantry of the American Presidential Inauguration is without equal. The world tunes in to marvel at the flexing of this American tradition. However, this year will be dramatically different. Covid regulations are restricting attendance to 1,000 people as opposed to the usual distribution of 200,000 tickets, and recent events have put security on the highest alert, so the ceremonial order will emulate the recent virtual Democratic National Convention.
The inaugural luncheon has always been a big draw, but creating the menu is not an easy task. There are politics involved. The menu must reflect the diversity and mood of the nation as well as reflect the personality of the incoming President. Following the inauguration, the White House Chef must then spend the next four years catering to the whims and tastes of the current President. Let’s take a look at select President’s First Meals and subsequent Executive Culinary Orders:
George Washington dined solo for the first inauguration in New York as his wife was still at home in Virginia, and then went straight to work, but his preferences while in office included Sliced Tongue and Toast, Mutton and assorted Wild Game, Lettuce Tarts, Gingerbread, Cream Trifle, and a healthy stock of Beer and Madeira Wine.
John Adams also dined alone on his Inauguration Day, but his Presidential Kitchen requests included Baked Salmon, Oyster Rolls, Codfish Cakes, Green Turtle Soup, Succotash and a variety of sweets and puddings: Indian Pudding, Flummery, Beggar’s Pudding, Syllabubs and Gooseberry Fool.
Thomas Jefferson was the first “Foodie”, and his inauguration was the first to have an organized luncheon. His favourite dishes which were exotic for the time, were also the ones that he helped popularize in America: French Fries, Waffles and Macaroni and Cheese. As ambassador to France, he had taken copious notes on everything he ate. He surveyed his Monticello vineyard and garden of more than 300 varieties of fruits and vegetables daily, and voraciously catalogued each harvest. His home in Virginia was the birthplace of American cuisine where he aimed to create a new American culture, borrowing from the best of Europe, to be respected globally.
John Quincy Adams was definitely not a Foodie. He was happy with crackers and water for dinner, but he was known to also enjoy apples from the White House Orchard.
Andrew Jackson’s inauguration was an infamous one. Barrels of Whiskey-Laced Orange Punch fueled chaos and destruction in the White House. The only way to entice the unruly crowd out of the house was by setting up ice cream and more punch bowls on the front lawn. In the meantime, fed up with his guests, Jackson fled to a nearby hotel to enjoy a steak with friends. Jackson’s kitchen had to have on hand Fried Apple Pie, Nut Soup and plenty of French Wine. Jackson’s administration was beset early on with gossip and scandal involving several members of his administration, and leading to the resignation of almost the entire Presidential cabinet. Paranoid and cynical he then began holding unofficial meetings with those he felt he could trust…in the White House kitchen. This was called the “Kitchen Cabinet”.
William Henry Harrison liked his Squirrel Stew! But he shoulda listened to his mother, because he delivered his two-hour inaugural address in the damp cold, without a coat, was quickly bedridden and died of pneumonia 31 days later.
Zachary Taylor is the only President to have died in office due to something he ate. One hot day, he called upon his White House kitchen for a large iced milk with cherries. This would be his last refreshment.
James Buchanan’s inauguration included the first inaugural buffet of 400 gallons of Oysters, 500 quarts of Chicken Salad, 1,200 quarts of Ice Cream, 8 rounds of Beef, 75 Hams, 60 saddles of Mutton, 4 saddles of Venison and $3,000 worth of Wine.
Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural lunch offered Mock Turtle Soup (made with a calf’s head,) Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes and Blackberry Pie. At his second inauguration the buffet included delicacies like Smoked Tongue En Geleé, Terrapin Stew, Leg of Veal, Beef à l’Anglaise, Foie Gras, Pâté, Cream Candies, Fruit Ices, Tarts, Almond-Flavoured Panna Cotta, Burnt Almond Ice Cream and Cakes.
Andrew Johnson ordered the establishment of a White House Dairy to provide him his own Fresh Milk and Butter on demand. He liked to snack on Popcorn, Roasted Apples and Chestnuts, and on a cold day, Pine Bark Stew. Johnson loved to have his Sweet Potato Pone, Pie and Pudding.
Ulysses S. Grant’s First Meal was not so notable for what was on the menu as much as for the massive food fight that ensued when his tired and hungry guests rushed the buffet. The moral is, don’t make your guests hangry. He made sure his kitchen staff stocked the pantry with Wheat Bread rolled into balls for him to shoot at his children.
James Garfield’s inauguration included the catering of 100 gallons of Pickled Oysters, 3,000 Rolls, 350 Loaves of Bread, 15,000 Cakes and 250 gallons of Coffee. His meal of choice was Squirrel soup and Tea-Mashed Potatoes.
Benjamin Harrison‘s inaugural menu was more diverse, featuring Oyster Stew, Cold Tongue en Bellevue, Quail Breast, Chicken Salad, Sweetbread Pâté à la Reine, Foie Gras, Terrine of Game, and…an 800-pound Cake in the shape of the Capitol Building!
Theodore Roosevelt’s most notable indulgence was his coffee into which he would stir as many as seven lumps of sugar. His coffee consumption was described as more in line with a bathtub than a cup.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt hosted King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the first reigning British monarchs to visit the United States, and served them…hot dogs! FDR had four inaugurations. In 1937, his housekeeper, Henrietta Nesbitt, prepared the First Lady’s favourite meal of ham, tongue and sweet potato casserole with marshmallow. In 1945, Roosevelt requested Chicken a la King, but Nesbitt refused! Instead she served a modest meal in keeping with the rationing of the times and out of respect for the troops, from bread rolls without butter to cake without frosting and coffee without sugar, and as for the chicken salad? The luncheon toastmaster George Jessel remarked, “How is it humanly possible to make chicken salad with so much celery and so little chicken?”
John F. Kennedy’s luncheon reflected the President’s and Vice President’s home states with “New England Boiled Stuffed Lobster with Drawn Butter” and “Prime Texas Ribs of Beef au jus.”
Jimmy Carter, a humble peanut farmer, cancelled his luncheon, and instead hosted low-cost informal parties with pretzels and peanuts.
And then came Ronald Reagan, and ever since, Inaugural luncheons have boasted sophisticated high-end menus that even keep politicians in their seats.
Ronald Reagan’s menu from 1981 included The California Garden Salad; Medallions of Chicken Piquante with Rice Pilaf Fresh Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigrette; Strawberries Frambois; and in 1985, Hot Mousse of Sole, Sauteed Spinach with Lobster, Shrimp, and Truffle Sauce; Medallions of Veal with Morel Sauce, Glazed Vegetables and Wild Rice with Chestnuts; Cold Praline Souffle with Raspberry Sauce. Reagan was also known for his affinity for jelly beans which he would eat during cabinet meetings.George H.W. Bush’s menu featured Lobster Scallop Ragù; Grilled Poussin with Four-Grain Rice Pilaf and Asparagus; and Brandied Pear Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream. Bush famously hated broccoli. On a state visit to Japan, Bush infamously fainted in his chair between dinner courses and vomited on the Prime Minister of Japan. While being attended by the Secret Service, he told them, “Roll me under the table until the dinner’s over.”
Bill Clinton’s 1993 First Meal served Grilled Salmon with Sorrel Sauce; Rosemary Chicken with Pecan Rice, Ginger Baby Carrots and Broccoli Florets; Apple-Cranberry Brown Betty with Creme Anglaise; and his 1997 menu featured Shrimp, Oyster and Scallop Pie; Beef a la Mode; Beggars Pudding with Quince Ice Cream. Clinton was lampooned for his love of Mexican food and fast food, especially Egg McMuffins. On German Chanceller Helmut Kohl’s visit to the US, the pair capped off a morning of speeches by rushing out to a Milwaukee diner to share three appetizers, soup, three meat entrees, veggies and pie a la mode in what would be known as the “Sausage Summit.”
George W. Bush served Lobster Pie; Grenadin of Beef Supreme; Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream at his first inauguration, and at his second inauguration served Scalloped Crab and Lobster; Roasted Missouri Quail with Chestnuts and Brined Root Vegetables; Steamed Lemon Pudding and Apple Wild Cherry Compote. One evening, a year into his presidency, Bush, watching a football game while lying on his couch, choked on a handmade Pretzel. When it lodged in his windpipe, he fainted and landed on his face. The next day, with scuffed-up face he addressed a phalanx of shocked reporters, “My mother always said ‘when you are eating pretzels, chew before you swallow…Listen to you mother.”
Barack Obama’s first inaugural menu was Steamed Lobster with New England Chowder; Hickory Grilled Bison with Red Potato Horseradish Cake & Wild Huckleberry Reduction; Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Aged Cheese & Honey; and at his 2009 inaugural luncheon served Seafood Stew; Brace of American Birds with Sour Cherry Chutney and Molasses Sweet Potatoes; Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake and Sweet Cream Glacé. Obama was perhaps the most fit President ever. In conjunction with his health care plans, he and First Lady Michelle Obama planted a White House vegetable garden, eliminated junk food from their diet, and promoted nutrition, healthy eating and fitness across the country.
Donald Trump’s inaugural luncheon featured Maine Lobster and Gulf Shrimp with Saffron Sauce and Peanut Crumble; Grilled Seven Hills Angus Beef with Dark Chocolate and Juniper Jus and Potato Gratin; Chocolate Soufflé with Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream. Trump is a germophobe, and is known to prefer eating from fast food restaurants (even appearing in a McDonald’s commercial), believing that they prioritize cleanliness. And who could forget his classy taco bowl tweet: “Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”
So what will the menu be for Joe Biden’s Inauguration? Will there even be an Inaugural Luncheon? More important, what will YOUR menu be on this Inauguration Day?
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.