The White House’s state dinners are a formal tradition for greeting world leaders on official state visits to the United States. While the feasts are bound by tradition and etiquette, the foods that are served vary greatly over time, as culinary trends change, and by the personal tastes of each president and/or their first ladies. There are subtle menu differences that reflect the purpose of the occasion, too, depending on whether the aim was to show off America’s prosperity or taste or to make the guest feel at home. When Nixon hosted Leonid Brezhnev, the menu was definitely a Cold War gambit.
Nixon hosted 40 state dinners before he resigned. Perhaps as a typically Nixonian attempt to convince others of his status, 13 of those dinners were in his first year alone. He was also the first president to host a leader of the Soviet Union—General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev on June 18, 1973—since the 1950s. Brezhnev was served supreme of lobster en bellevue (chilled lobster removed from the shell and decorated with aspic, truffles, and green leaves, according to Ruta, the former executive sous-chef), contre-filet of beef bordelaise, paillettes dorées (a very Gallic way to say “cheese straws”), pommes aux amandes, eggplant and green beans orientale, a bibb lettuce salad with Port Salut cheese, and vacherin glacé aux framboises for dessert.
The dinner was a fitting coda to Nixon’s “kitchen debate” with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow back in July 1959. During a series of discussions over the relative merits of the United States and Soviet Union at the American National Exhibition in Moscow (which Brezhnev also attended), America’s then-vice president stressed to the Soviet premier, “In this day and age to argue who is stronger completely misses the point. With modern weapons it just does not make sense. If war comes we both lose.” Despite the military advantages held by the Soviet Union, Nixon argued, the United States provided a better quality of life for its citizens.
Foreign Policy has collected the menus of 392 state dinners over 14 administrations, and present the data in several interactive graphs you can explore, plus an article about state dinners as a whole, and a section for each president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Donald J. Trump -all on one page. -via Everlasting Blort
(Image credit: Alex Fine)