It will be Colorado lamb on the menu and Grammy-winning R&B singer Ne-Yo as the entertainment, when President Barack Obama welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to the White House for a state dinner on Friday.
Chinese-American guest chef Anito Lo will be cooking up a dinner inspired by the harvests of late summer and fall.
The menu is designed to highlight “American cuisine with nuances of Chinese flavors,” the White House said Thursday.
That translates into wild mushroom soup with black truffle, poached Maine lobster, and grilled cannon of lamb with baby broccoli. Dessert will be poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd sorbet.
A state dinner is the glitzy finale to a state visit, a high honor usually reserved for longstanding and close U.S. allies. This will be China’s second state dinner under Obama. Party planners had the challenge of making this one stand out from the last.
In 2011, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the White House for a state dinner that had a “quintessentially American” theme, which was requested by the Chinese delegation. The event included an evening of jazz and a menu of poached Maine lobster, dry-aged ribeye steak, lemon sorbet and apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The lobster was served with orange-glazed carrots and black trumpet mushrooms.
This year’s lobster will be different: poached in butter, it will be served with spinach, shiitake and leek rice noodle rolls.
In 2011, decorations incorporated prints of a pheasant, the native bird of China, the country’s national color yellow, and jewel tones inspired by the work of American artist John James Audubon.
Friday’s dinner decor will feature the rose, a flower precious to both East and West. Two roses calligraphed on a 16-foot hand-printed silk scroll are meant to signify a complete meeting of minds. The two nations have sharp differences on issues such as human rights and cybersecurity.
Desiree Rogers, a former social secretary for Obama who planned more than 300 events, including a state dinner for the Indian prime minister, said the goal is to “make it just as, if not more enjoyable, than the last time for the group.”
The White House works closely with the State Department for guidance on cultural dos and don’ts to personalize the experience for the guest of honor, Rogers said.
“They really are the center,” Rogers said, referring to the guests. “The goal is to really have them be over the moon with the evening.”
Rogers said some points to consider when planning a dinner for a returning country are: If the previous meal was held indoors or outdoors, could the location be reversed? If it was held indoors, could it be moved to a different room? How can the entertainment be done differently?
Lea Berman, who served as White House social secretary under President George W. Bush and welcomed leaders from Australia and India, said White House events are always different even though they follow a similar format.
“Many events that are done year after year have formulas for execution,” Berman said. “There’s always a backbone or framework.”
In recent years, the state dinner has taken inspiration from Mrs. Obama’s White House vegetable garden. This year’s menu will include squash and pumpkin from the garden.
This year’s invitation list won’t be released until guests start arriving Friday night.
Story complied with information from The Associated Press.