The White House: Someone’s in the Kitchen

The White House: Someones in the Kitchen

An invitation to dinner at the
French embassy in London is the dream of any true gourmet. Ambassador
Jean Chauvel's chef is one of the world's great cooks. A tiny
Tonkinese, Bui Van Han, 50, has presided over the Chauvel kitchen for
22 years, is a graduate of Paris' famed Cordon Bleu school, a master of
haute cuisine. In the posts where he has cooked for the
Chauvels—Paris, Bern, New York —the mere memory of his Pauppiette de
Sole la Richelieu or Cotelettes de Pigeone l'Espagnole is enough to
make taste buds quiver and eyes grow moist.
Bui's fabulous sauces, prepared from top-secret recipes, are his
spcialit.”Who Is This Guy?” It was no surprise that Bui's reputation
was known to Jacqueline Kennedy, who loves French cooking. But the
story that the First Lady had been guilty of the unpardonable
impropriety of trying to lure him away from the ambassador was as
shocking as serving a sweet white wine with pink filet mignon. From
London the cables buzzed with a story that Letitia Baldrige, Jackie's
social secretary, had telephoned Bui one midnight last week and, in
liquid French, offered him a substantial raise in pay to come to
Washington and cook for the President. After 24 hours of thinking it
over, said Bui, he had declined the offer.The story hit Washington like a deflated souffle. “I never heard of
this guy,” complained President Kennedy. “Who is this
guy?” He soon learned. Press Secretary Pierre Salinger said that
last December, London friends of the Kennedys had heard that Bui
planned to come to the U.S. and had put out feelers on Jackie's behalf.
But when the chef said he had no travel plans, explained Salinger, the
negotiations ended. “Tish” Baldrige denied that she had
phoned London, said she had only sent Bui a letter “to let him
know what was cooking,” confirming the fact that his services were
no longer sought.
Then, to reassure the present White House kitchen crew, Associate Press
Secretary Andrew Hatcher formally announced: “It is the feeling
that the present staff is entirely adequate for the current limited
social calendar at the White House.””These Things
Happen.” When reporters asked the name of the White House chef, to
get his comments. Salinger refused to give it out, inadvertently made
further headlines by adding that the 70 domestic servants in the
mansion had signed “waivers” promising not to write about
their experiences with the Kennedys. It was not a condition of
employment, he added nervously—merely a voluntary step to ensure
privacy for the presidential family.Word of Salinger's booboo reached the President, who summoned his
unlucky Pierre to his office for a 45-minute tongue-lashing. When
reporters eventually reached White House Chef Pedro Udo, he was true to
his vow of silence. In London, Diane Chauvel was philosophical:
“These things happen, you know. It's nice to know Mrs. Kennedy
thinks so highly of our cook.”