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How presidential plates and palates have shaped politics

Julia Child hosted a televised event at the White House, where she interviewed Henry Haller, the longest-serving White House executive chef.
Julia Child hosted a televised event at the White House, where she interviewed Henry Haller, the longest-serving White House executive chef.

A meal, when served at the White House, is much more than sustenance. It showcases the culinary preferences of the time, the tastes of the man in the Oval Office, and the political priorities of the leading administration.

President Barack Obama was the country’s first hard-core foodie. His successor, Donald Trump, tried a different tact, appealing to “Joe Six Pack” with his fast food dinners.

Early presidents understood how food could help persuade skeptics and assuage animosity. Thomas Jefferson famously presided over a meal between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to help broker agreement on various debates, including how to address the new nation’s post-war debts. The famous “dinner table bargain,” as it became known, was recreated in the hit musical “Hamilton” in the song “The Room Where it Happens.”

We take a historical, gastronomic tour of White House history with the author of the new book, “Dinner with the President,” and a former White House chef who cooked for three presidents.

Below is an excerpt and recipe from the book.


Andrew Jackson’s Inaugural Orange Punch

After General Jackson was sworn in as the seventh chief executive on March 4, 1829, he rode his white horse up Pennsylvania Avenue to the President’s House. He was trailed by “King Mob,” a raucous crowd of thousands of his admirers, who surged into the mansion in search of food and drink. As they guzzled orange punch, a standard drink of the day, furniture was scattered, glassware was smashed, and Jackson was squeezed tightly against a wall, until his associates helped him escape out a window.

“What a scene we did witness! The Majesty of the People had disappeared, and a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros, women, children, scrambling fighting, romping. What a pity what a pity! . . .  [T]he whole house had been inundated by the rabble mob,” the socialite Margaret Bayard Smith reported of the mayhem. “Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe. . . .  But it was the People’s day, and the People’s President and the People would rule.” As the crowd grew rowdier, quick- witted stewards lured them outside with barrels of punch on the lawn.

Recently, the cocktail expert Eric Felten scoured nineteenth-century cookbooks in search of an orange punch recipe for The Wall Street Journal. Unimpressed by the overly sweet results—“not anything I’d trample White House furniture to get at”— he tweaked the punch with mulling spices, soda water, and Angostura bitters to make a sprightly rum cocktail.


3 parts fresh orange juice

1 part fresh lemon juice

1 part mulled orange syrup (see note below)

1 part dark rum

1 part cognac

2 parts soda water

Dash of Angostura bitters

Note: For mulled orange syrup, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a pan and bring it to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add a strip of orange peel and mulling spices— 2 cinnamon sticks, a few whole cloves, and a few allspice berries. After simmering for 15 minutes, remove from the heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain and add to the punch.


In a punch bowl, combine the ingredients and cool with a large block of ice. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice, and add a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass.

From Dinner with the President by Alex Prud’homme. Copyright © 2023 by Alex Prud’homme. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Avery Jessa Chapnick, Chris Remington