India the flavour at state dinner

India the flavour at state dinner


They hired a new florist, Laura Dowling, who bedecked the tented outdoor dining room with locally grown, sustainably harvested magnolia branches and ivy.
They invited local students to witness the arrival of the guests of honour, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, and presented a melange of musical entertainment, including the National Symphony Orchestra; singer and actress Jennifer Hudson; Kurt Elling, the jazz musician from Chicago; and A R Rahman.

And at the tables, the menu included a mix of Indian and American favourites, including some African-American standards. Collard greens and curried prawns, chickpeas and okra, nan and cornbread were served to the 320 guests  who started off with arugula from the White House garden and finished up with pumpkin pie tart. And don’t forget the dinner plates. For an administration that publicly prizes bipartisanship, what could be finer than an eclectic mix of Clinton and Bush china?

Obama greeted his guests in Hindi and hailed the contributions of Mohandas K Gandhi and the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, saying that such “giants” are “the reason why both of us can stand here tonight.”

The evening was a potent mix of politics, diplomacy and glamour, with the administration’s favoured donors mingling with lawmakers from Congress, cabinet secretaries, Indian dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities decked out in tuxedos and designer dresses.

The guest list included actors Alfre Woodard and Blair Underwood; directors Steven Spielberg and M Night Shyamalan, writer Jhumpa Lahiri, former Secretary of State Colin L Powell, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a Republican, and Indra Nooyi, the chief executive of PepsiCo.

The Obamas distinguished themselves from their immediate predecessors by holding their dinner under a grand tent on the South Lawn to allow for a more expansive guest list.  And they emphasised some of their favourite themes, including bipartisanship, diversity and a focus on healthy meals.

Michelle Obama made a splash by showcasing deep, rich colors — apple green for the tablecloths and varying shades of plum, purple and fuchsia in the hydrangea, roses and sweet peas in the centrepieces.

There was White House honey and sage from the garden and a menu that gave vegetables and beans — including eggplants and lentils — top billing. And the Obamas shook things up by serving, among other dishes, Indian food to an Indian delegation, typically a no-no.

“You wouldn’t try to outdo the Indians; that would not be typical,” said Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff and took pains to praise Michelle as moving in a new direction. “It’s the perfect combination of American food with a nod to the visiting country.”

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