TRAVEL

The Culture Trip Travel Journal - a collection of experiences, story's and adventures brought about by the global world of food. I explore global city's, cultures, politics and the food that drives it all and ultimately brings us all together. 

White House Eats - From Back of House to the Briefing Room

The White House

The White House

The secret service was set to pick us up at 6:30 AM sharp at the restaurant. We loaded the van with all of our prepped food for the days lunch. We and the team at MXDC were to cook for the entire West Wing staff, including the President, on the day the Mexican president was visiting Obama. Ironically, we were not aware of the state visit until we started mixing up the salsa. There’s sort of a beautiful synergy there - we just so happened to fill the white house and west wing staffers with the flavors, smells, and in many ways traditions of the Mexican people on the day that the country president was to meet with President Obama. The day would become another great example of the power of Food to bring people together.  

If the boss wants an omelette, he gets an omelette. Anywhere

It was sweltering. One of the hottest days in recent memory. We walked out in front of Pennsylvania avenue and around to the side security gate. Once in the white house complex, we headed to the West Wing kitchen at 7AM to get started to meet the rest of the US Navy team.The US Navy Food Service team oversees food preparation and delivery for the president and his family around the world. 

Chef TE with members of the US Navy FoodService Team

Chef TE with members of the US Navy FoodService Team

Back in the day, the story goes that President Truman wanted to host a dinner party on the river. The only vessel at the time the was large and safe enough to host the president and his party was a US NAVY ship. When it came to who was going to cook the dinner, the President said that he only trusted the Navy Sailors. The US Navy Food Service team was born. It was an honor and a privilege to work with these fine men and women to execute a lunch and become friends through a common craft. Now a core of 65 permeant members travel around the word weeks in advance of the presidential visits to inspect all food sources and oversees to ensure none tries to tamper with the food in an effort to hurt the president and his family. They will literally inspect farms, production facilitates and oversee kitchen operations for foreign state diners. Occasionally, they will completely take over a foreign kitchen. As Charlie explained to me “If Boss wants an omelet, he gets an omelet”. Valid. 

 

Pre Shift meeting with the US Navy Food Service Team 

Pre Shift meeting with the US Navy Food Service Team 

The West Wing Mess Hall 

The West Wing Mess Hall 

It was ultimately through Food that we bonded with the Navy Food Service Team. I had spent my life in the restaurant business, and these guys had spent 20+ years feeding and fueling our navy and our   president around the world. These were the guys that ran the food program on air craft carriers around the world. One in particular, Dave, was stationed on the air craft carrier with Chris Kyle, the famed American Sniper, and was part of the first battle group to sail from Asia to the Persian Gulf post 9/11 - they “were the first to arrive, made it in 12 hours, reloading with missiles and food mid cruise”.

 

These guys had all kinds of riveting stories about there work in the global food service business working with the Navy. Although they had a completely different experience and perspective on the food world, ultimately we shared the common humanity of feeding, fueling, and bringing smile so peoples faces around the world through Food. 

We had a little time to kill before lunch service started, so I decided to explore a bit. Right next to the mess hall from kitchen entrance was the situation room. Yes, THE Situation Room. Not the one with Wolf Blitzer, the real one. The one where Presidents make big time plays - like the one where Obama decided to go after Bin Laden. I started to take a photo of the Situation Room Door. Before I could even take the photo on my phone (and I thought I was quick), two secret service agents open the door and grab my phone. I was terrified, admittedly. Not the greatest start to my journey. Note to self - DO NOT try and tauOke photos of inside government buildings, especially of “incredibly sensitive” doorways. Got it Oliver, nice.  

Al Pastor Tacos from MXDC Restaurant & Cocina

Al Pastor Tacos from MXDC Restaurant & Cocina

The restaurant operates a take out window as well for the entire white house staff. Going in and out of security is kind of a pain so, most staff use the restaurant. While the team completed lunch service, President Obamas personal Valet (personal butler, not the guy who parks your car), Charles, came to get us for a tour of the oval office and west wing meeting rooms. It became evident that best way to explore was with someone who had the proper credentials, and what turned out to be a fascinating level of presidential and American History.

After touring the west wing offices, we stopped in the office of the press secretary, Josh Earnest. He is the daily communications point person between the Obama administration the public. We started chatting about his background and I had explained that my work in the global hospitality business had been a catalyst for my passion for foreign policy.   He asked if I wanted to attend the press conference directly after President Pena’s meeting with President Obama. Strong YES.”

President Obama speaks at the joint US Mexico presidential press conference 

President Obama speaks at the joint US Mexico presidential press conference 

Just before service was set to start, Josh’s assistant came to get me and walked me in the East wing, where the joint press conference was to be held. I was nervous, and sweating. (Which I was later made aware of) I arrived just before all of the press were let in. A few minutes later Obama and President Pena entered the room to begin the conference. It was an incredibly powerful experience to be in the presence of such a masterful communicator. The whole thing felt like a movie set, with the textbook gold curtains, chandleries, and presidential podiums. After the press conference, I went back to the kitchen to complete lunch service. 

In the White House East wing ahead of the joint US Mexico presidential press conference 

In the White House East wing ahead of the joint US Mexico presidential press conference 

The whole experience was surreal and unforgettable. To be at the center of it all - of American and Global politics. To witness first hand a presidential press conference and prepare an authentic lunch for the west wing staff reminded me once again of the power of food, and its uncanny ability to bring people together. It was through Food that we bonded with the Food Service team. It was through Food that we injected some Mexican tradition in the West wing staff on the day the Mexican President met with Obama. Food defines our common humanity, one that defies borders and political affiliation. It does so in a way that transcends racial, geographical, and sociopolitical backgrounds. I will continue to better and more fully utilize food to bring people together in the future, and to create positive change in the world through the great connector.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planet Bombay - My First trip to India

The city was alive. Truly alive. Thats the best way I can describe Bombay (Also called Mumbai) when people ask. Alive and bustling with people, a ton of people, 26 Million to be exact. At least thats thats officially “On the books”. By no means am I pretending to be good at math, but I can tell you that there were a lot more then that. Four days in Bombay…Go!

Locals call it Planet Bombay because its just that - a little mini world working in harmony. The Rich, the poor, the goats, and vast landscape of language and religion and culture, all live in and working together as part of one city and one heart beat. Slums lay in front of newly developed towers, and luxury hotels gated abut small shops and factories seemingly stuck together with tarps, sticks and hard work. 

Major roads and Intersections were a frenzy, a complete may lay but all accounts. My driver assured me that it was business as usual and that there was a “system” in place. We breezed through red lights and passed aggressively through intersections, bing sure not to hit a passing person, Rickshaw, laundry cart, goat, or anything else that may have made its way int to the road. 

I traveled to India on an invitation to explore a business opportunity. A local, and multigenerational development family brought me in, on behalf of our company, to assess a new project. A beautiful new development that is sure to be the new gold standard in western style mixed use development. A piece of land that had been in the family for generations and once held the largest drive up movie theater in the Country.

Touring a new development in Bombay

Touring a new development in Bombay

The new development already houses the most expensive office space in the country, housing the likes of google and diplomatic embassies. The next two phases were to include a new indoor mall with a redeveloped drive up movie theater on the roof, a sports club, and 3 new international hotel towers. Our project would anchor the new Mall, take up a large portion of the top floor and be adjacent to the new slew of movie theaters across the way. I soon came to realize that all of this new development is a nod to the new, or soon to be new, Bombay. One that had been, and by all accounts still is, rapidly developing since its economy was opened to European and American markets over 30 years ago. 

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I arrived at Mumbai international airport just before the sun came up and will never, I mean never, forget the smell as I stepped out of the airport for the first time. The air was dense, thick, and musky - the kind of musky that you can almost taste. Needless to say not something you want to taste. I spent the first night in the southern tip of the city at one of the oldest and most iconic hotels in the world - the Taj Majal. As a student of hospitality design and history, this place was a masterpiece. Old school colonial dapper with timeless palate and finishes. 

Taking a swing with the locals in Mumbai 

Taking a swing with the locals in Mumbai 

I didn't yet fully understand this concept of wealth and privilege living so closely and intimately with poverty. As I always do in a new city, my first measure was to throw on my running sneakers and go explore. Two minutes into my run, down the street from the best hotel in the country, I ran by a man squatting on the sidewalk (where other people were walking) taking the most casual and leisurely dump one could take. Literally cigarette in hand, taking in the view, letting one loose, not giving a, well, you know. I was startled, to say the least. Im actually laughing out loud as I write this today. 

A storeowner points to his next customerY

A storeowner points to his next customerY

On my first day, I was taken on a tour of the city. What a incredible, and very very sweaty day. We visited old colonial posts, Ghandis home, played Cricket, and toured some of the slums of the country. Equally as vibrant as that intersection were the narrow streets and allay ways of the slums. Bustling with locals slinging fried food and treats, children playing cricket, and elders deep in conversation, as they have probably bene doing for decades. Many of these slums sat at the bottom of newly developed towers. Residents of the clubs now have to collect water in huge blue jugs because the towers had used up all the water pressure. 

What stuck me most was an incredibly well knit, layered, and rich cultural intersection. India is made up of over 30 states, and Bombay is the New York of the country, if you will. Like NYC, many of the most hard working, progressive, and passionate people make their way to the city to work and live and earn a better lives for themselves and their families. There is an incredibly rich cultural history, one that dates to precolonial times. 

Young Men practice the favorite local sport, Cricket

Young Men practice the favorite local sport, Cricket

Speaking of which, it is hard to ignore the deep and longstanding imperial English roots. The British colonizers exerted tremendous influence for many years, a lot of which is still evident via throughout many aspects of society. Cricket is the national sport and played on fields, slums, and stadiums through out the country. During a city tour, I jumped into a cricket game and took a few swings. It was a blast! Not being abel to comment with these kids, we used sport, and a few smiles to connect and share commonality together.