A few months back when I went to Washington, D.C. I was invited to attend a State Department function. The Association of Food Journalists, of which I belong, was lucky enough to help launch the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, a collaborative initiative between the U.S. and the James Beard Foundation in early September.
Chefs like Art Smith, Duff Goldman, Jose Andres and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Crawford, Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and assistant chef Sam Kass all attended. I personally had no idea who was there until I spied Mary Sue Milliken at a wooden table serving tiny fish-covered bread pigs. And then I turned around and saw Mary Alice Yeskey and Geof Manthrone from Ace of Cakes.
About an hour in, a speech was made by Chief of Protocol Capricia Penanic Marshall, and by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton via video. The place was packed with tons of people I didn’t know, except for who I’d see on the Food Network.
In a nutshell, the initiative helps use food as a public diplomacy tool.
The program’s mission statement says, “The Diplomatic Culinary Partnerships initiative builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of ‘smart power’ diplomacy, which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, by utilizing food, hospitality and the dining experience as ways to enhance how formal diplomacy is conducted, cultivating cultural understanding and strengthening bilateral relationships through the shared experience of food.”
Which brings me to Rick Bayless. After speaking with Crawford, I took my chance and walked up to him and said…
“I don’t mean to bother you, but I just wanted to say my mother loves you.”
“You mean not you,” he replied jokingly.
“I promised her I’d tell you that if I ever met you….” and then I started to tear up…..”but she died six months ago….”
“Awww, I’m sorry…”
And then he pulled me in closer and hugged me, which was so gracious. I didn’t expect that at all. He really didn’t have to do that.
I don’t remember much after that, I know I said something like ‘thank you,’ and then went back to my little corner of the room, where a mini tequila was waiting for me.
And an even more spectacular view of our nation’s capital. And then to add food?! Whoa!
It was a great night – Duff Goldman even baked a massive earth-shaped cake for guests made out of chocolate chips! It was awesome.
I do wish my mother was with me. She would have loved it every moment of it – except for the heat. I don’t do humidity – and neither did she. Like mother like daughter!
I know she’s proud of me wherever she is; I just wish I could hear her say it.
But I do know wherever she is, she’s proudly retelling my story to everyone she sees!
And did I mention, just for attending this important culinary event, the State Department gave each of us a parting gift!
It contains an olive oil, cranberry oat bar, customized M&Ms, lemon syrup, some sort of chocolate box with the Dept. seal and a recipe for an all American apple pie. I have yet to break open the plastic seal. I know, I know, but it’s just so cool. Not like I’m getting anything else from the State Department again anytime soon!
Maybe one day I’ll get desperate enough to do it, but for now, it’s sits on a shelf in one piece. Which by the way, was nerve-racking to transport on a cross-country flight – and inside luggage!