Washington — Tariq Hanna beamed as he tightly clutched the award he’d just received for being a member of the 2012 Class of State Chefs.
The pastry chef who operates the popular Sucré sweets boutiques in New Orleans and Metairie was finding it difficult to believe he’d been chosen to represent the United States as an unpaid culinary ambassador. “I moved to the United States 26 years ago from England by way of Nigeria, and two years ago became a United States citizen,” he said.
Hanna and Chip Flanagan, executive chef at Ralph’s on the Park in New Orleans, were among the 16 chefs recognized Sept. 7 in Washington, D.C., at ceremonies announcing the new Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, a collaboration of the U.S. Department of State, its protocol office and the James Beard Foundation. The two chefs are part of the 90-member American Chef Corps, which will promote American cooking and agricultural products abroad.
New Orleans chefs John Besh and Susan Spicer also are among the 90 chefs who have agreed to serve as resources to the Department of State in three ways: To help with food preparation, presentation and planning for meals shared between American and foreign leaders at the Department of State; to participate in a U.S. Expert Program linking chefs traveling on their own with embassies and foreign audiences to teach about American culinary traditions and food; and to share their expertise with food professionals from other countries who are in the U.S. as part of an exchange program.
Hanna, who said plans are under way for a new Sucré shop in the French Quarter, happily added his selection to the American Chefs Corps to his list of major milestones in his life since becoming an American citizen. The first, he said, is “my dad saying he was proud of me.” Also on his list are being named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America by Pastry Art & Design Dessert Professional Magazine and being selected as the “first-ever honorary wing commander of the Louisiana Air National Guard.”
Flannagan speculated that his and Hanna’s selections might stem from a Department of State-sponsored dinner for traveling foreign ambassadors they helped prepare in New Orleans last October. He made redfish with a soy and cane syrup glaze served with shrimp dumplings while Hanna made the dessert. Chefs John Folse, whose latest enterprise is Restaurant R’evolution, and Spicer, with Bayona, prepared the other courses for that dinner, he said.
Capricia Penavic Marshall, U.S. chief of protocol, initiated the new program to use food as a diplomacy tool with the approval of her boss, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In a video message to the crowd gathered for the launch of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, Clinton said she thinks “food is the oldest diplomatic tool. … Sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can.”
Marshall said, “By showcasing the best of American cuisine and creativity, we can show our guests a bit of ourselves.”
Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, called the American Chef Corps a “recipe for international understanding through hospitality.”
Sam Kass, White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives and one of the 90 Chef Corps members, said, “Everyone eats. Food has a way to bring us together as nothing else can. … Chefs, besides grandmothers, are the only ones with true food history knowledge. … I can’t be more excited about the potential coming from this (the Chef Corps). It’s an incredible honor and incredible challenge. We have the ability to do so much and cross so many boundaries.”
Those attending the American Chef Corps official announcement enjoyed artisanal cheese, charcuterie, bread, beer and wine from what were termed “some of our nation’s true culinary trailblazers,” such as Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, Calif.; Creminelli Fine Meats, Salt Lake City; and Vino50: The Grape American Road Trip, Springfield, Va. They also tried dishes such as heirloom bean and bacon tostada created by Mary Sue Milliken, of Los Angeles and Las Vegas; bison short ribs by Bryan Voltaggio, Frederick, Md.; Maryland blue crab crostini, by Amanda Freitag, New York City; artisanal gelato from Dolcezza, of Washington, D.C.; and American Heritage Chocolate, created by Mars.
But, the showstoppers were the miniature savory and sweet creations of Peter Callahan Catering, of New York City, from tiny sliders and pigs-in-the-blanket to a whimsical pheasant under glass.
Below are recipes from some of the chefs featured at the event:
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