Washington: Crabcakes, beef short ribs and a deconstructed banana split have made the cut for this week’s White House state dinner honouring South Korea’s seven decades of relations with the United States.
First lady Jill Biden and her team previewed the menu and decor on Monday.
Biden said her mother taught her that setting a table can be an “act of love” and she learned from her husband, President Joe Biden, that “all politics is personal.”
“We hope to bring those two ideas together as we welcome the President and Mrs. Kim, honoring the 70 years of our alliances with symbols and moments of beauty that reflect both our countries,” the first lady said, speaking of President Yoon Suk Yeol and Mrs. Kim Keon Hee.
Some 200 guests are expected at Wednesday’s glamorous black-tie dinner, which will be held in the East Room, the largest room in the executive mansion. Guests will move down the hallway to the State Dining Room to be entertained after dinner by a trio of Broadway stars: Norm Lewis, Lea Salonga and Jessica Vosk.
Jill Biden enlisted Korean American celebrity chef Edward Lee to add his special flair to the meal. Lee’s specialty is the intersection of American cuisine with Korean flavours.
“Chef Lee creates meals that are both familiar and surprising,” she said. “A fusion of different worlds that finds a perfect balance.”
The crabcake appetiser features what Lee described as an updated coleslaw of cabbage, kohlrabi, fennel and cucumber topped with a vinaigrette made using gochujang, a red chili paste, and a small bowl of yellow squash soup. The main course, braised beef short ribs topped with sorghum-glazed carrots are served atop a dollop of grits made from butter beans instead of dried corn.
Dessert is the deconstructed version of a banana split, an American classic, featuring lemon bar ice cream, caramelised bananas, fresh berries and mint ginger snap cookie crumble drizzled with a caramel sauce infused with doenjang, a fermented soybean paste.
“We really wanted to do spring, something that’s fresh,” said Lee, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, and made his home in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I’ve wanted to take some of my favourite American foods and just, just tinker with it a little bit, and this is also how I cook in my restaurants. Just add a little bit of Korean touches to it,” Lee added. “It’s not traditional Korean food but just gives you a little hint of Korean flavours.”
Asked which dish was her favourite, the first lady said: “The first. It’s so American, the crabcake. But I love them all.” She predicted that the president, who likes ice cream, would lean toward dessert.
“Joe’s favourite will be the last,” she said.
Guests will be seated at a mix of round tables covered with light blue silk cloths or oblong tables with teal plexiglass tops. Every table will be topped with a towering 6-foot (1.8 meter)-tall vase centrepiece filled with blooming cherry blossom branches, along with smaller arrangements of pink orchids and peonies. Azaleas, native to Korea, will adorn tables at a pre-dinner cocktail reception.
Wednesday’s state dinner will be the Biden administration’s second. Biden’s first state dinner was held last December, honoring America’s friendship with France.
The White House worked on the details with Jung Lee, the Korean American founder and creative director of Fete, a New York-based design firm.