Sarasota caterer recreates notable White House dinners
May 7, 2008 | Sarasota, FL
By MARSHA FOTTLER
Politics makes strange bedfellows but contributes to spirited food and wine events, as Sarasota caterer Chef Larry Barrett knows. He is capitalizing on the intense interest in politics this hotly contested primary season by offering his clients re-creations of memorable White House dinners, right down to the invitations, flower arrangements, music, table settings and faithful duplication of the�menus.
On a recent night at the Siesta Key home of Robert and Peggy Waxman, Barrett's Simply Gourmet catering staff re-enacted the 1961 dinner party that President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted for Princess Grace (Kelly) and Prince Rainier of�Monaco.
The president's guests were seated at round tables, a new approach for the White House in '61; before the Kennedy administration, guests were seated at one long rectangular or U-shaped table. Jacqueline Kennedy thought round tables were more intimate and conducive to conversation. It was this first lady who standardized the number of dinner courses to four, a tradition that has been followed ever since. Barrett noted that in his research of presidential dinners, Ulysses S. Grant once served 29�courses.
"We did make one deviation in the Kennedy-Princess Grace dinner," said Barrett, "in that we plated the food restaurant-style in the kitchen and then brought the plates out. Up until the time of the Clinton White House years, servers went around with large platters and guests helped themselves. There was a lot of spilling because many of the guests at these formal dinners were nervous. Hillary Clinton made the change, and now all White House meals are plated before�serving.
"Jacqueline Kennedy liked to separate couples for dinner, and we've done the same thing at the Waxmans'�house."
Barrett and his wife, Jamie, who is the event coordinator for the family-owned catering business, set the two tables of seven with white china distinguished by a gold rim. Three forks and three knives were part of the table setting, as were gold chargers that were removed from the table after the appetizer course. Four wine glasses completed the place�settings.
The Waxmans said they decided on this kind of dinner party because the idea seemed fresh. "The party is actually the belated celebration of our fourth wedding anniversary," said Peggy Waxman, who is a case manager for HealthSouth. "We were looking for something a bit out of the ordinary. When Larry came up with this concept we knew it would be special for our guests and that it would generate a�conversation."
Robert Waxman is a currency trader and co-author of the book "Kabbalah Simply Stated." He is a frequent lecturer and teaches classes on understanding Kabbalah. He thought a presidential dinner seemed appropriate to the�times.
"Everyone is thinking politics right now, and a dinner based on White House food sounded intriguing," he said. "I wanted something novel, and this definitely is. The guest list is pretty much evenly divided as to political orientation, and a dinner like this can be a springboard for conversation and maybe friendly�debate.
"Notice I said 'debate.' Anything beyond that, we discuss the food and what this dinner must have been like in 1961 at the White�House."
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