H-word does not feature on White House menu

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The Independent Online
AT THE first industrialised countries' summit meeting at Rambouillet in 1976, James Callaghan, the British prime minister, was asked for his impressions. Before replying, he chose to comment on the food. The apple charlotte served in the French President's country palace was, he said, 'the best I have ever eaten'. From then on, whenever Mr Callaghan was in France, the chef at the Elysee Palace was advised by the British embassy to stick to the same dessert.

Over the past week, Joel Normand, the Elysee chef, Alan Lavender, John Major's chef, and 29 of their colleagues who cater to heads of government, known as the Club of the Chefs of Chiefs, met at the Hotel Crillon on Paris' Place de la Concorde to compare notes on how they keep their high-ranking eaters happy. At the end of the week, they went to Morocco at the invitation of King Hassan.

High points during their French stay were receptions offered by President Francois Mitterrand and Philippe Seguin, the corpulent and bon vivant President of the National Assembly and France's best-known anti-Maastricht campaigner.

For lunch on Wednesday, the 31 chefs, all wearing their white chefs' hats, descended on La Coupole at Montparnasse for a seafood meal. Other interludes included a trip to Euro Disney and a banquet, washed down with a Chateau-Latour 1976.

Apart from receptions where the dietary needs of the guests of honour often pose particular problems, the chefs also cater to the everyday culinary needs of their masters. If Mr Lavender was not drawn on the tastes of his boss, Bill Clinton's (French) chef at least put some myths to rest.

How often did Pierre Chambrin throw a hamburger in the pan? The reply was haughty and he disdainfully avoided repeating the name of the dish: 'I have not served a single one since he took up his functions.' Mr Clinton's needs, however, reflected concern about his waistline and the cuisine tended to be 'lighter' than in the days of George Bush, he said.

Mr Normand, who has worked for every French president since Charles de Gaulle, said Mr Mitterrand 'prefers to see game in the woods and the countryside' and never allowed pheasant or hare to be served.

John Leblanc, the Canadian Prime Minister's chef, revealed that, before every Ottawa banquet, samples of the food being served were frozen so that, if guests had any intestinal problems, analysis would be easy. 'But this has never happened,' he said.

The Club of Chefs of Chiefs was founded in 1977 and meets in a different country each year. Apart from culinary nuances, there are also substantial differences in salary among its members. Bill Clinton's cook said he earned the equivalent of pounds 47,000 a year. His Canadian counterpart earned pounds 30,000. Mr Normand of the Elysee earned only pounds 19,000, but is also housed (and fed).