They call themselves the most exclusive gastronomic society in the world.
Because to become a member of the Chef’s Club, all candidates must meet one criterion: they must be a personal chef to a head of state.
In French, the name Club des Chefs des Chefs is a play on words that uses the double meaning of the word “chef”, which can mean both chef and chef. A loose translation would be “the chefs’ club to be heads of state”. The group is sometimes referred to as the Gastronomy G20, based on the G7, which was also a French initiative.
Last week, around 20 chefs from the world’s most powerful decision-makers – presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, kings and queens – gathered at the glitzy Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris to continue a 44-year tradition of coming together at a host country every year, last year had been thwarted by Covid-19. Chefs from China, South Korea and South Africa could not be there this year because of the pandemic.
“The great advantage of speaking to other chefs at these events is that we share a lot of similarities and challenges,” said Cristeta Comerford, who has been the White House chef since 2005. “For us, it’s about advising each other and learning from each other. Visiting each other’s countries also helps us to understand the respective head of state at the same time. “
It’s also a rare opportunity to meet chefs from around the world, who know the most intimate details of the world’s most powerful people and who carry those secrets close to them like classified dossiers: the comfort dishes their guides crave late into the night ; their aversions to food; and any strange or surprising food combination requests.
“While we’re all classically trained chefs, it’s about the people we serve and the people we want to please,” Comerford said. “It depends on what you like and what your preferences are. It’s not about the cook. It ensures that everything we do is done well. “
Predictably, Comerford speaks in generalizations and cleverly dodges the cooking questions for various governments, be it the health-conscious Obamas or Donald Trump, who has an affinity for well-done steaks, KFC and of course McDonalds.
– The White House 45 archived (@ WhiteHouse45) 15th January 2019
But Joseph Korson, head chef of recently ousted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was able to speak more freely about the five years he spent serving the family of the former leader after he too left the prime minister’s official residence.
Unlike Comerford and Mark Flanagan, the personal chef of Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Household, who are both public figures, Korson had to keep a much lower profile due to security concerns. Only his family and closest friends knew about his job, and he purposely went dark on social media throughout his entire stay.
“Israel is a small country and it is not where you want to make public that you are close to the prime minister,” he told Robb Report. “That could be dangerous. So I kept quiet about where I worked. “
Korson was a one-man show: not only was he the family’s personal chef who prepared three meals a day, but he served all of the meals himself as he had no staff. Compared to the chefs of major heads of state, Korson describes an unusually intimate and therefore “intense” work environment.
“You are there for everything,” he said. “You are there for every state crisis, for every personal concern, you can see it all. You have to be resilient and remember why you are there because it is not always easy to work in such an intense environment. “
It was a big break for the American-born chef, who had worked in the hospitality industry for most of his life, be it in his own home or with well-known chefs, including Raymond Blanc in the UK. As the personal chef of the Israeli Prime Minister, Korson’s new job was no longer to show his creativity or culinary skills in the kitchen, but to respond to the whims and needs of the most powerful man in the country. And here he rediscovered a simple but important aspect of the cooking profession.
“I think people forget what it means to serve. It’s about giving people what they need before they even know what they need. “
For Netanyahu, that meant feeding him foods rich in immune-boosting ingredients like garlic, ginger, and lemongrass-infused Thai dishes before embarking on a busy international trip to keep him healthy on the go. Creating meals that fell below the calorie limit; and started a weekly tradition of serving the head of state his favorite dish, chicken schnitzel, for lunch every Friday.
Because Korson saw his role not only as a cook.
“I would tell anyone who wants to work for a head of state that if you have an ego, get rid of it. Be humble. You cannot go to such a place with an ego or try to prove yourself or make a name for yourself because you are ultimately there to serve. You serve your head of state, your country and your people. If you have an ideology behind it all, you can weather the storms. “
The French chef Guillaume Gomez made a similar statement. After 25 years as head chef at the Elysée, France, Gomez was a loyal servant to four presidents and their families, all of whom were “connected” to French gastronomy in different ways: some enjoyed generous portions, others lighter fare, and others were still impressed with creative, technology-oriented meals.
Earlier this year, Gomez traded his chef’s coat for a suit and tie after being named “Gastronomy Ambassador” by French President Emmanual Macron, a new position for Gomez and a first for the country. His official title is “Personal Representative of the President of the French Republic” and his mission will be to promote French gastronomy, local products and producers both in France and internationally.
When welcoming foreign guides, Gomez said that certain ingredients were likely to stay off the table: game meat, giblets, or giblets, for example, which many people don’t like.
And while the kitchens always get a list of foods under the protocol that the foreign guide doesn’t like or can’t eat, a secret tool is available to members of the Chef’s Chef’s Club to prepare the meals that their VIP Guests enjoy: a dedicated “blue line” that allows chefs to tell each other about their respective guides’ food preferences, Gomez said.
“That blue line allows me to call Cristeta at the White House or Mark Flanagan at Buckingham Palace to find out what foods their guides like.”
Via the blue line, Gomez consulted with Comerford at one of his last meals for a US president: black pork ribs from Bigorre in the Haute-Pyrénées region of southwest France and apple pie, Gomez said.
The food was for Donald Trump.
“He said, ‘It was amazing.'”