Cooking for the commander in chief, while a great honor, is no easy feat. Similar to the job of the president of the United States, the head chef in the White House is always working round-the-clock to make sure things (in this case, the kitchen) run smoothly.
Chef Walter Scheib revealed to The Daily Show, “Everything you do is based on what the families want — the Clinton’s liked one style and the Bushes like another.” He found that preferences didn’t divide so much along party lines as they did gender. “The guys would have been just as happy if we opened a TGI Friday’s in the basement. They kind of dined on the concept it was good, if you melted cheese on it, it was even better.”
This shows in the weird, eccentric foods Scheib and other White House chefs reveal that presidents loved. Some requests, like John F. Kennedy’s top pick (No. 12), are high-maintenance but fairly reasonable. But our current president’s priority snack (page 9) is not only a little odd but pretty unhealthy.
Next: Most people would refuse to eat this soggy combination of foods.
1. Pork rinds covered in Tabasco sauce
Although the first lady didn’t always approve, George H.W. Bush loved snacking on junk food, like Butterfingers and beef jerky (not together). But one thing he did combine and enjoy more than anything: pork rinds covered in Tabasco sauce.
The 41st president mentioned pork rinds throughout his campaign, making the fried pigskin snack so popular that Rudolph Foods Company, a pork rind manufacturer, asked all their employees to work overtime to keep up with sales.
Next: Only one man reportedly enjoyed this odd snack request.
2. Cottage cheese with ketchup
The Swiss-trained chef, Henry Haller, was hired by Lyndon B. Johnson out of New York’s Sheraton East hotel in 1966. He served five presidents over 21 years, including President Richard Nixon.
A paper reported that Nixon picked up an eating habit from his grandmother. He was known to dig into cottage cheese mixed with pineapple and topped with ketchup on multiple occasions. Haller also made the president a famous meal that may have been his last as president: a poached egg with corned-beef hash.
Next: This president struck a New Deal over an American classic, but he had other odd favorite foods.
While one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite foods, a delicious grilled cheese, is about as normal as it gets, his other desires were a bit strange.
According to Henrietta Nesbitt, the White House housekeeper during FDR’s administration, his other favorites included scrambled eggs, fish chowder, and fruitcake. Nesbitt claimed Roosevelt liked foods he could “dig into.”
Next: This family recipe was an “atrocious concoction” according to the head chef.
4. Coca-Cola flavored jelly
Roland Mesnier, who served 25 years as the White House pastry chef, revealed in his 2007 memoir that during Bill Clinton’s administration, there was one family recipe that seeped into the kitchen against his will. The “atrocious concoction of Coca-Cola-flavored jelly served with black glacé cherries,” was reportedly a family favorite that Mesnier was required to make on occasion.
Before Clinton announced his new vegan diet, the former president loved to indulge in jalapeño cheeseburgers.
Next: This president could only have his favorite dish when the first lady left town.
5. A big bowl of chocolate mousse
Poor Ronald Reagan. In order for Chef Mesnier to make his favorite dish, Nancy had to leave town. According to the chef, the first lady gave him strict orders to never give her husband chocolate.
When she was away from the White House, however, all bets were off. Ronald’s favorite meal included steak with a side of mac-and-cheese and a huge bowl of chocolate mousse for dessert. “That was a very happy man,” Mesnier recalled.
Next: This president ventured into the kitchen himself to make his favorite dish.
6. Oxtail soup
Most of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s meal requests sound like they were stolen from the menu at a dusty British pub. His favorite entrees included beef stew and quail hash. Dessert wasn’t complete without a prune whip or English rice pudding.
However, there was one dish in particular that Eisenhower preferred to prepare without the help of a professional chef. According to HISTORY, the president preferred to make one of his favorites, Oxtail soup, himself.
Next: This president took his love of candy to the next level.
7. Tons of jelly beans
Ronald Reagan used to say that popping jelly beans helped him quit smoking, according to Bravo. As the governor of California, he received monthly packages of jelly beans from Goelitz Candy Company. (His favorite flavor was licorice.)
When Reagan became the 40th president, the famous candy company ramped up their shipments, sending 3.5 tons of red, white, and blue jelly beans to his inaugural celebration and keeping the Oval Office’s jelly-bean jar full throughout Reagan’s presidency.
Next: One of our current POTUS’ favorite foods didn’t hold up in the White House kitchen.
8. McDonald’s fried apple pie
President Donald Trump has expressed his love for a true American staple: fast food, and specifically, McDonald’s. In fact, he requested that the White House kitchen staff learn to prepare McDonald’s food like the Quarter Pounder.
This includes McDonald’s mini fried apple pies, one of Trump’s favorite foods. According to Eater, while the staff was asked to replicate both the burger and pie, their attempts “couldn’t match the satisfaction” of the McDonald’s recipes. This is likely because White House chefs work with higher-grade ingredients than McDonald’s does.
Next: You won’t believe what this president had to eat — we’d assume against his will.
9. Dry, overcooked fish
While it may not have been his first choice, George H.W. Bush had to eat dry, overcooked fish at the command of his wife, Barbara. Chef Mesnier, recalled Barbara as a “shouter” who demanded their fish be cooked in this unconventional, usually detestable way.
Next: The 16th president wanted this holiday treat year-round.
10. Gingerbread men
Gingerbread cookies were a luxury for Abraham Lincoln during his childhood. During a debate in 1858 he said, “When we lived in Indiana, once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often, and it was our biggest treat.” He later reflected on the story during his time in the White House, mourning the loss of his mother’s specific recipe.
Next: Presidents like to drink, too.
11. A ton of wine
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson loved to drink wine so much that he ordered it by the barrel. During his time as the third president of the United States, he required four to six different wines at each meal. And it wasn’t uncommon for Jefferson to down four glasses of vino each night. Being president is stressful — maybe he needed all the alcohol.
Next: This presidency arguably revamped the White House kitchen for good.
12. French-inspired cuisine
While John F. Kennedy held New England clam chowder close to his heart, his wife, Jackie Kennedy, had another idea for the official White House cuisine. The Kennedys hired René Verdon, who brought his French culinary skills to what was previously a “headquarter for dull institutional cooking often supplied by outsider caterers,” according to The New York Times.
Verdon took advantage of his role and platform as head chef, promoting his French food and elevating the White House standards for presidential dining. He used his own vegetables, notably growing them on the White House roof, and had herbs planted in the East Garden.
Next: This president wasn’t known for his sophisticated taste.
13. Garbanzo bean puree
Johnson favored foods like chipped beef on toast and tapioca pudding as opposed to his predecessor’s French cuisine. René Verdon left the White House in 1965, reportedly resigning in a huff over the request that he make a cold garbanzo bean dip.
“The Johnsons liked to have certain foods, but I think people coming to the White House are not expecting hamburgers, chili con queso or spareribs. Those foods belong to the land, they do not belong in the dining room,” he told The New York Times in 1985.
Next: This recent president had to restrict his snacking to the weekends.
14. Pies (but only on the weekends)
However, as a member of the kitchen staff during Barack’s presidency, Kass had to balance the first lady’s nutrition initiatives with the president’s love of food. “The only adjustment they had to make … there’s a pastry chef in the White House. So, when we first got there, there were pies everywhere, and the first lady had to limit pies to only the weekends.”
Next: Arguably the oddest presidential meal of all time.
15. Molded cheese ring
The Carter family brought an old secret recipe to the White House. Chef Mesnier revealed that while no one tried to steal it, he was obligated to make it.
“It was a mixture of Muenster, cheddar, all the stickiest cheese you could find, mixed with onions, capers, and strawberry jam in the middle,” he revealed to a crowd at the Washington Winter Show antique showcase. He also let the crowd in on a little-known secret: The Carters didn’t care for peanuts at all.
Next: Another soup we’ll pass on was a presidential favorite.
16. Turtle soup
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt preferred his meals feature a comfort dish like pigs in blankets or fried chicken. However, there was one comfort food in particular that we’re pretty sure Teddy is alone in favoring: turtle soup.
Next: Bush Jr. had an odd request, too.
17. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches
Scheib, hired by Hillary Clinton and then later fired by Laura Bush, revealed some insider information about what the second Bush family requested in the kitchen. Scheib, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, had plenty of gourmet recipes on hand. However, George W. Bush had one simple request: a peanut butter and honey sandwich.
Scheib recalled that Bush, who was notorious for giving people nicknames, often entered the kitchen asking, “Cookie, what’s for lunch?” Scheib always made sure to have Bush’s presidential preferences in stock, like the sandwich.
Next: The honorable mention goes to …
Hillary Clinton’s sauce collection
According to Scheib, Hillary Clinton made her mark on the White House kitchen as the first lady. She collected dozens of hot sauces that were kept on hand in the kitchen at all times. During her campaign for president, Clinton was asked by hip-hop morning radio show The Breakfast Club what item she always carried on her. “Hot sauce,” she answered immediately.
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