Dining and diplomacy

jose andres, right, and capricia penavic marshall

We’ve all seen how the soothing mantle of a good meal can foster peace among feuding relatives. Now the U.S. State Department has created the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, which I learned about during the recent Association of Food Journalists conference in Washington, D.C. Chapel Hill chef Andrea Reusing of Lantern is among the 90 who will take part.

The State Department is working with the James Beard Foundation on the project. The goal is to include the culinary arts as a diplomatic and cultural education tool in the same way that other art forms have long been parts of those efforts, according to Capricia Penavic Marshall, U.S. Chief of Protocol, who announced the program and honored the participants during a reception on Sept. 7. “Food matters to everyone,” Marshall said. “We want to highlight American culture and have culinary engagement in diplomatic efforts.”

cris comerford, white house executive chef and member of american chef corps

Via video, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “Food is the oldest diplomatic tool, and it can build a bridge in a way that nothing else can.”

Reusing will be part of the American Chef Corps, a volunteer network of chefs around the country. Details are still being worked out, but their jobs could include being tapped to prepare state dinners, promoting American cooking and products, or working with international visitors. The corps includes such big names as Jose Andres, Rick Bayless, John Besh, Marcus Samuelsson and Susan Spicer.

For state dinners, the corps takes us another step away from the traditional French food served for years to menus that reflect America’s bounty and other traditions, often tailored to the dignitaries being honored. One example: Ming Tsai’s meal for the Chinese vice president, which incorporated influences from both countries. After they participate in some way, corps members will receive special navy State Chef jackets, with an American flag and the State Department seal, after participating in some way.