Chef Tony Mantuano and chef de cuisine Joe Flamm of Chicago’s famed Spiaggia found themselves in Washington, D.C., preparing lunch on Tuesday for Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. As President Obama’s term in office winds down, this lunch is the last state visit under the current administration.
Mantuano, a member of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership—part of the James Beard Foundation’s American Chef Corps established during then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure—went through a battery of security checks before the meal. For example, he and Flamm dropped off their knives early Tuesday morning with the White House’s catering team so they could be screened; it’s not like they were just going to greet Biden and Kerry with a bag of chef knives. They also had to get approval for the menu.
"I think the most-challenging menu item for them was the quail," Mantuano said. "They didn’t want to have an international embarrassment by picking up the quail and not doing the right thing."
After reassuring security that quail was boneless, other than the wings and drumsticks, they received approval. The menu featured a first course of squash, pistachio pesto, coriander honey and arugula, followed by the roasted quail, charred carrot puree, green walnut syrup, sugar snap peas and truffle. Uncle Joe and Co. chowed down on pumpkin budino with brown sugar for dessert. Spiaggia’s sommelier Rachael Lowe handled the wines: Pride, Viognier, Spring Mountain from Sonoma County, Calif. and Angela, Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, Ore.
Kerry even mentioned Mantauno in his remarks. Mantuano and Flamm packed some ingredients, like the pistachio pesto, in their suitcases in Cyrovac packaging while they flew from Chicago. They had nothing but praise for the State Department and their culinary crew.
"Culture is a big part of any interaction between countries," Mantuano said. "It’s where we find common ground to talk about bigger problems."