The First Lady

February 03, 1993

Those who thought Hillary Rodham Clinton was too much of a feminist and professional to stand the famous heat in the White House kitchen now know better.

In addition to being in charge of the health care task force and also serving as adviser on policy and personnel for the administration, she has announced that she will be running the household at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She may not personally rattle any pots and pans, but, like a few First Ladies before her, she is going to put her stamp on the cuisine.

And her stamp is American -- with a big A. For example, at the first state dinner last week, given for the nation's governors, they even had Vidalia onions. Mrs. Clinton's decision to emphasize healthy -- broccoli is back, she said -- American cuisine instead of French is not as daring or innovative as some have made it out to be. Nancy Reagan hired an American-born and -trained chef whose specialite was scallops cooked in tequila. (He didn't work out.)

The idea that the White House kitchen should be a Frenchy place started with Jackie Kennedy. Before her, Navy cooks and stewards set the tone. She hired Rene Verdon, a classic Gallic chef. He was followed by the Swiss-born and -trained Henry Haller, who presided over the White House kitchen for First Ladies from 1966 to 1987. But he often came up with strictly American menus and cuisine. For example a three-meat (pig, buffalo, chicken) barbecue for a state dinner for the Japanese prime minister in the 1970s.

Mrs. Clinton's apparent enthusiasm for this role is a good sign. Tammy Wynette she's not, but she clearly sees that she has the responsibility of standing by her country and seeing to it that the White House is managed socially, in every sense of that word, in a way that makes all Americans feel proud and all states and regions feel honored, when their proudest dishes are featured.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's visibility in connection with this activity is also a welcome reminder that "homemaker" is not a disparaging word, that "First Lady" is an honorable title.

That she can do this and be active in substantive political and governmental affairs is a tribute to her and a reminder that millions of American women chose to or must bear somewhat similar dual obligations.

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