Professional Chef Reveals What It's Really Like Cooking For President Obama - Exclusive

As a contestant on both Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef, Chef Anita Lo has interacted with many celebrities — including competitor Mario Batali, whom she defeated. Most recently, she's been invited, along with famous chefs Paul Liebrandt and David Burke, to teach in a Master Series of virtual cooking courses on CocoSocial. But none of these brushes with stardust have been quite as spectacular as when Anita Lo was invited to cook a state dinner at the White House for then-President Barack Obama and visiting Chinese president Xi Jinpin.

As the first female guest chef to prepare a state dinner, Chef Lo recalls the experience as a life-changing event — but also an evening that did not go exactly the way she'd planned. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Anita Lo revealed what it was really like to cook for President Obama and several hundred other hungry guests. "It was one of the biggest honors of my life," Chef Lo recalled. But she added, "I think it was really difficult. I wasn't particularly proud of the outcome."

The intricate dinner Chef Lo served sounds like a feast indeed befitting international superpowers. The presidents enjoyed a combination of American and Chinese delicacies: butter-poached Maine lobster served with spinach, shiitakes, and leek rice-noodle rolls, followed by Colorado lamb with garlic-fried milk and baby broccoli. Dessert was poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd and lychee sorbet (per The Daily Meal). So what went wrong?

Why Chef Lo has regrets about cooking for President Obama

Chef Lo said that she didn't realize how long the food her team was preparing would need to hold before it was served, resulting in less than plated perfection — at least according to Lo's extremely discerning perspective. "You're a perfectionist at the end of the day," Chef Lo said. "I would have done food that held a little better, but that being said, [there's] nothing I could do about it now."

As tough on herself as Chef Lo is, she can admit that it was quite a coup to serve so many people, in such a short time frame, under so much pressure. (And let's recall that some of these items were not exactly spaghetti and meatballs; "garlic-fried milk" likely is not the first thing they tackle in culinary school!) "We served 250 people four courses in 35 minutes. It was a little scary," Chef Lo said. 

After dinner was served, the highlight of the evening was when Chef Lo was invited to greet the guests. "We actually got to go out and to see everybody," she said. "Everyone clapped, so I was very happy. We did a little picture with the Obamas and President Xi and his wife. They sent us a thank you with that signed picture. It was very nice."

Be sure to reserve your spot in Chef Lo's virtual cooking class on CocuSocial, which will be taught on August 16th.