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Not 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.