My Day at the White House

From my blog post on the Epicurious epi-log blog:

Forty-eight hours ago, my dream came true. What was that dream? To inspire, educate, and empower kids to eat healthfully, to cook, to notice what goes into their bodies, to be the best they can be. This is the genesis of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and Kids’ State Dinner.

I’ve had the good fortune to help promote Let’s Move since 2010, when someone from the White House called me to say: “Hey, we know you wrote a book on healthy eating, and that Epicurious likes to promote the topic. Why don’t we work together?” In early 2011, myself and two colleagues, Laura Miller and Maurie Perl, were thinking of ways to inspire kids to eat healthy and reinforce the Let’s Move initiative, when we came up with the idea of having a kid’s recipe contest with the prize being a priceless Kids’ State Dinner at the White House. I mentioned it to the First Lady’s office and lo and behold, we got a call several months later that Mrs. Obama would love to do this. Months of work from teams of people–from the First Lady’s office and the White House Digital Office, the U.S.D.A., and Department of Education, along with our always hard-working team at Epicurious–resulted in 54 winners flying on Delta Sunday with a parent or guardian to Washington D.C. (thank you, Delta!). We stayed at the beautiful Westin Georgetown (thank you, Westin!); had a private tour of Julia Child’s kitchen from the brilliant curators at the National Museum of American History (thank you Paula, Nanci, Keith, and Valeska!); enjoyed a healthy pizza party; and the next morning boarded buses for a sightseeing tour before arriving at the White House.

As befitting any state dinner, we were announced, one by one, walking past an enormous phalanx of press. Many of the kids were interviewed (and indeed, have now become local celebrities), and handled it like pros. We proceeded up to the Grand Foyer (see above), where there were spectacular arrangements made from raspberries, sugar snap peas, and radishes, as well as healthy drinks. A balloonist made the kids imaginative hats before all the kids lined up to each have their photo taken with the First Lady.

The winners headed into the grand East Room, which had been transformed into a kid-friendly dining room. The menu was comprised of a few of the winning recipes. And then it began…the First Lady was announced, followed by myself, and 12-year old Marshall Reid, coauthor of Portion Size Me. You can see me here (below), ready to begin my remarks, and fully soaking in the moment. I began, nervous at first, as not only was I addressing the First Lady of the United States, but also an enormous crew of television cameras. (The event was covered by more than a thousand news outlets.) I will publish my speech on Gourmet Live’s blog on Friday at noon, but I spoke from the heart. I then introduced the amazing Marshall, who moved us all when he talked about being bullied. Mrs. Obama followed up with an inspirational off-the-cuff speech. Dinner was served, and myself and four other families were lucky enough to be seated with Mrs. Obama. As we talked about things big and small, the President crashed the party, eliciting excited screams. He congratulated the winners and stayed to shake everyone’s hand. It was such an extraordinary honor and a real surprise!

It seems a blur after that: Big Time Rush performed for their many enthusiastic fans, and then we all headed out to the Kitchen Garden with White House Assistant Chef, Sam Kass, who showed us the tomatoes, squash, and beans growing on the far end of the South Lawn. White House pastry chef Bill Yosses gave the kids honey from the White House beehive, and we all exited the gates.

It was such an amazing honor to be there, and to bring these very deserving families with us. I hope the message of eating healthy, so you can be at your peak for yourself, for your family, and for your country, will continue to ripple out in ever widening circles. Meantime, we will soon be posting video and photos of the entire day on Epicurious, but right now you can download a free copy of the winning recipes at the recipe contest site. Our huge thanks to everyone involved in making this happen, especially Mrs. Obama.

Watch the White House Kids’ State Dinner video that so beautifully captures this extraordinary day.

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