Come October, the kitchens of Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande will be headless. That’s because they’ll all be wining and dining in India.
In what can be termed as a ‘G-20 on gastronomy’, the chefs who run the kitchens of 25 of the world’s most powerful leaders will converge under one roof in the Capital for the 2016 general assembly of the Club des Chefs des Chefs — an elite gastronomic society, whose members comprise ONLY the personal chefs of heads of state — presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens.
This year, the members of the most exclusive gastronomic society in the world will meet in India from October 23 to 28, comparing recipes, and sharing culinary traditions.
Visiting India this year will be Cristeta Comerford (a Filipino-American who is the executive chef at the White House, and one of the two CCC female members), Mark Flanagan (head chef at the Buckingham Palace), and the chefs of the French, German, Spanish, Canadian, Chinese and Swedish heads of states, among others.
The CCC itself has an interesting beginning. Back in 1977, French textile businessman Gilles Bragard — couturier to chefs and international hospitality — brought together seven personal chefs of heads of state for a gathering at the iconic restaurant Paul Bocuse. The event was such a resounding success that Bragard went on to create the non-profit later the same year. This little-known group now meets annually, in a different country each year. This is the first time they’re all visiting India.
“Politics divides men, but a good table unites them,” says Bragard, the executive secretary of CCC, about the society’s ideology, adding with a chuckle, “Chefs make for the best diplomats.” Venu Rajamony, press secretary to the President of India, agrees, saying, “Bheema was a chef, and so was King Nala. Today soft power is used to win friends, and food is a great binder.”
The idea of getting repositories of such exquisite and powerful information does get the mind curious to no end. But the most delicious information is well guarded under their toques. Ask them about the favourite dishes of their employers, and there will be no answer. If conspiracy theories as a reason is going through your mind, then rest easy. The logic is far from it. “Once Jacques Chirac’s chef let out that his favourite dish was stuffed veal, and after that wherever he went, the former French president was served the same dish,” says Bragard.
But they do have their own code. Before a diplomatic visit, the chef would call his counterpart and ask, “So, how’s your guy like?” shares Bragard.
But there are other fascinating stories. One with former US president George Bush exclaiming, “I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” (his mother forced him to eat it all his life) which led to broccoli being banned at the White House and aboard the Air Force One. Ironically, Obama loves broccoli. Similarly, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had banned cheese from the Elysée Palace, while Francois Hollande is known to love the dairy product. Another is of the varying tastes of royalty — while Queen Elizabeth II favours foie gras, her granddaughter-in-law Kate Middleton stays away from such fatty foods.
So, what of the chefs themselves? With India’s vast canvas of culinary offerings, the choice of what to sample might seem challenging. The chefs, though, will be coming with an open mind. Bragard — who has frequented India often — ticks off tandoori items and Indian breads as something to look forward to, while Montu Saini, executive chef to the President of India, intends to showcase everything from Gol Gappas and chaat to more intricate Indian dishes — with all the produce sourced indigenously — for his international counterparts.
Over the years, the motley group of white-jacketed men and women have grown to realise the influence they could have, and expanded the society from being a common space to share their ideas and passion with others under similar ‘work pressure’ to raising money for charity across the world. One such charity dinner will be organised in India as well, the proceeds of which will go to a philanthropic cause in India.
CCC is even working on a recipe book with contributions from all the chefs. The proceeds from which, Bragard says, will go to an American charity that works in Burkina Faso.
For the India event, five chefs from the congregation will join spatulas to come up with a cohesive menu that showcases the flavours of their respective countries. (So, if you want a taste of the kind of dishes served at the White House, grabbing yourself one of the 200-odd seats would be advisable.)
French strategist Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord once said to Napoleon Bonaparte: “Give me a good chef and I shall give you good treaties.” These culinary ambassadors visiting India this October are those behind-the-scene people who influence world politics, whether we know it or not!