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Cristeta Comerford: Hail to the Chef
The first female, Asian-American and Filipino White House executive chef reveals the secrets to her success, her most embarrassing kitchen moment, and what the Obamas like to indulge in.
By: Franco of Table for Three Please  |   Published on: Aug 25, 2009 - 8:36am
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teta5Not only the first woman but also the first Asian-American and first Filipino White House executive chef, Chef Cristeta Pasia-Comerford has the enviable task of cooking for the most powerful household in the world.

SPOT.ph had a one-on-one interview with her at the media lunch for the BPInoy Awards, an annual event of the Bank of the Philippine Islands honoring world-class Filipinos. Find out what she has in common with Finding Nemo, why she dreams of feeding dead presidents and rock stars and who is her worst food critic.

Let's go back to 2005. Your becoming the executive chef of the White House was momentous. Where did you find out and how did you feel at that moment?

At the moment, when I got the job, it wasn't even clear. They called me and they said, "You have to be here Friday." I said, "I won't be here Friday. I'm flying to Mexico." They were like, "You have to go there later on." It was one of those things… Did I get the job? But they wouldn't tell me. I wasn't at liberty to talk to anyone especially my mom because there was a moratorium. You cannot do anything until the press [office] has released it officially. It wasn't supposed to be released until that Monday. But then Sunday evening, out came my picture on CNN as the first woman White House chef. I froze because they told me it was not going to be released until Monday. I had to call mom. I was like, oh my gosh this can't be true. It was such a big surprise in a good way. Remember Finding Nemo? When the fish escape the tank? They crossed the street, down to the harbor, down to the water. What did they say when they got there? They said, "Now what?" That's how I felt.

The impression is that the choice of executive chef is as much political as it is culinary. What's involved in choosing the executive chef of the White House?

The first time I was chosen in 2005, I didn't even realize how much it took. There were actually 450 candidates who applied for the job. At the time, I was not even planning to put my name in. I just figured, like, I was a sous chef. If they like me, they're going to ask me. But no, you've got to put your application in and I did. Out of the 450, it was narrowed down to 10. Out of the 10, they narrowed it down to three. There were tryouts for the three. It was kind of like a long shot for me. I was looking at the resumés of the other [candidates] and I was like, "Oh my gosh, how can I compare with these people?"

We did a cook-off. I had to run the show because the position [of executive chef] was voided so I was working and doing my menu at the same time. I was still running the show because we still had events going on. It was a very disheartening time for me. I would have loved to make the best tasting menu ever but it was so difficult to even prepare for it because I had to really focus on the other two [competing chefs] who were like guests coming in. I had to make sure they were taken care of. It was a big learning experience for me. Eventually, Mrs. Bush chose me. Does that make it political? I don't know.

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18 Comments
  • gene flores
    muzta na...??? haba pa rin ah, kala ko pinatanggal mo na, he,he, joke lang...
    Nov 06 2010 @ 11:58pm     Reply  
  • alexbogsie
    good job,but i don't know if this is true.i read this in one magazine.that she is no longer the head chef in the white house.there's a new one,a male.i saw him in the mags.i read the interview about the way he prepared the salad for the first family.i don't know if this is real.maybe i am wrong.
    Oct 30 2010 @ 07:17pm     Reply  
  • ueaster
    to most of your countrymen, you are an inspiration now as it was before, ms cris. you are one of the few Filipinos who gives hope when we are down, who keeps our spirits up in times of despair. God bless
    Sep 02 2010 @ 09:47am     Reply  
  • harold
    KUDOS .....hands up for her
    Aug 24 2010 @ 01:01am     Reply  
  • gerry
    My new idol!
    Aug 23 2010 @ 03:39pm     Reply  
  • Yan
    Kudos to you Ms. Teta!!! You make us proud to be Pinoy! Great Job for winning the Iron Chef America w/ Chef Flay!
    Jan 06 2010 @ 02:11am     Reply  
  • Jovie
    A salute to you Ms. Cristeta! Truly proud to be a Pinoy! You're an awesome chef! Watching you now at Food Network's Iron Chef America (Jan 3, 2010) is a thrill...my daughter and I are so voting for you to win (alongwith Bobby Flay)
    Jan 04 2010 @ 10:27am     Reply  
  • candy
    way to go :) we're proud of you
    Oct 08 2009 @ 03:45pm     Reply  
  • chris
    Teta, whats your secret in cooking?,,, hope it wont be a secret anymore for a Flipino people,,, Were proud of you,,, GOD BLESS
    Oct 08 2009 @ 12:18pm     Reply  
  • lhai
    good job!! i want to be like you in the future. keep it up!! your such a great chef!! God bless!! =]
    Aug 31 2009 @ 09:22am     Reply  
  • ning
    you're such a great chef...keep up the good work God speed!!!
    Aug 28 2009 @ 01:04pm     Reply  
  • bobbie
    TETA PROUD TO BE PINOY YOUR WONDERFUL
    Aug 28 2009 @ 12:54pm     Reply  
  • eva
    YOUR SO AMAZING....ONE OF A KIND
    Aug 28 2009 @ 08:17am     Reply  
  • chestea
    we proud of you
    Aug 27 2009 @ 11:32am     Reply  
  • rene
    Yeah Cristeta... and for all you out there I'm proud to say I know her sister Edna very, very well.. from our Elementary to High School.. And I know where they lived, the exact house in Sampaloc...
    Aug 26 2009 @ 01:55pm     Reply  
  • barbs
    Good interview, she's very smart.

    I read somewhere that her mentor, former White House chef Walter Scheib, said he was very impressed with her the moment she showed up at the White House. He even defended her against critics who wanted the Obamas to ditch her and hire a new executive chef. Good thing the First Couple chose to retain her.
    Aug 26 2009 @ 01:37pm     Reply  
  • Franco
    Once you get beyond the White House veneer, she is actually a great person to interview. :)
    Aug 25 2009 @ 05:43pm     Reply  
  • ck
    way to go ms. teta, being the first female executive chef of the USA. im sure that the pres and his wife will enjoy and love all your dishes.
    Aug 25 2009 @ 03:36pm     Reply  
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