The man picked for president is not a picky eater


November 08, 1992|By ROB KASPER

As an eater, President-elect Bill Clinton is a man who "likes most anything." He is a guy who can so passionately pursue the corn bread, the baked chicken and the chess pie, that from time to time his wife "has to kinda quiet him down."

So says Liza Ashley, who cooked for Clinton and his family at the governor's mansion in Little Rock.

In a friendly, half-hour telephone conversation conducted the day after the election, Ms. Ashley, 75, talked about the

president-elect's eating habits and those of the Clinton family. The picture that emerged was of a man who likes conventional American foods, such as barbecued ribs, roast chicken, beef tenderloin. He likes lima beans, drinks coffee, is allergic to chocolate, and doesn't care for catfish.

His wife, Hillary, appears to be the more adventuresome eater. She likes juices and teas and jalapeno peppers. Their daughter, Chelsea, sounded pretty much like a teen-ager. She eats fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and hamburger.

A few years ago Ms. Ashley wrote a cookbook, "Thirty Years at the Mansion," containing some of the favorite dishes of the Clintons and other Arkansas governors she has cooked over the past 30-plus years. (Hardback copies of the 1985 book are gone, but in the middle of last week, the book's Little Rock publisher, August House, said it had some of the $15 paperbacks left; [800] 284-8784.)

A native of Lonoke, Ark., who began working at the governor's mansion in the early 1950s, Ms. Ashley also worked at the Clinton campaign headquarters in Little Rock this year. She has a pleasant story-telling style. She began by saying that when it comes to corn bread, the Clinton White House could be a house divided.

"He likes that corn bread, and those corn bread sticks," she said. As for Hillary Clinton, "She likes that hot bread, that jalapeno corn bread. He doesn't."

The Clintons, she said, have a disagreement on what kind of stuffing should be served with the Thanksgiving turkey. "He's from down here [Arkansas], so he likes the corn bread dressing. She's from up North [Illinois], so she likes the regular bread stuffing."

As a compromise, Ms. Ashley said, she served both, but put the corn bread mixture inside the bird.

Pork will probably find its way into the Oval Office because, according to reports, Clinton is a major fan of barbecued pork ribs. When the governor got a craving for pork ribs, they were ordered from Arkansas smokehouses, like Sims on 33rd Street in Little Rock, or Lindsey's on East 14th Street in North Little Rock, Ms. Ashley said. Sometimes the governor himself made the rib run, restaurant workers said, showing up at the establishments to pick up the family's barbecue. The ribs at Sims have a mustard sauce, a worker there said in a brief telephone interview. And across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, Shirley Lindsey said the ribs in her restaurant were slow-cooked over hickory and came with a somewhat sweet sauce.

Besides being the backbone of Arkansas economy, chicken was also a regular item on the governor's menu. The Clintons were a family on the go, and often, Ms. Ashley said, she would cook chicken dishes and leave them in the fridge for the family to reheat or grab on the way out the door. "He liked that baked chicken with rice and onion soup, and that chicken enchilada," she said.

No one describes Clinton as a picky eater. Reports from scribes who traveled with him on the campaign trail tell of a man with a fondness for mango ice cream, a man who never met a Dunkin' Donut he didn't like. His own adviser, James Carville, has been quoted as saying Clinton was a "seefood" eater, meaning "He sees food and he eats it." Apparently one reason Clinton jogs so often is to keep his weight, officially listed at 225 pounds for a 6-foot-2 1/2 -inch frame, under control.

Ms. Ashley merely alluded to Clinton's tendency to put on the pounds. Once well-liked desserts, like pecan pie, chess pie -- pecan pie without the pecans -- and poundcake, have been on the wane in the Clinton household, she said.

When quizzed about beverages, Ms. Ashley said that while wine was sometimes served at dinners, "I had never seen him with a highball." Hillary Clinton, she said, likes to drink juice, tea and an occasional glass of buttermilk.

Now somewhat retired, Ms. Ashley was asked whether she planned on traveling to Washington to cook in the White House. "No," she said. "That town is too fast for me."

Ms. Ashley delighted in telling stories about previous Arkansas governors, including former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, who once served quiche to some "country people."

The folks took a look at the pie-like creation, Ms. Ashley recounted, and thought the cook had made a mistake. Dessert was being served too early.

Despite the setback, quiche remained on the menu. Clinton liked it, she said.

Bill Clinton is a quiche-eater. Good thing for him the Republicans didn't find that out.

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