• The United States has a new team of culinary stars preparing to represent us at dinner tables around the world. The State Department introduced the American Chef Corps this past Friday night at a celebrity chef-studded event. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has played a strong part in guiding the emphasis at the State Department to fine dining with a truly American accent, and the U.S. Chief of Protocol at the State Department, Capricia Penavic Marshall, is now spearheading the State Department’s new Diplomatic Culinary Partnership program, announced at the Sept. 7 event. And of course there was good American wine on hand: Iron Horse 2007 Classic Vintage Brut and 2008 Wedding Cuvée were poured at a swanky reception in the State Department's Benjamin Franklin Room, along with an array of food that included heirloom bean and bacon tostadas created by chef Mary Sue Millikin and sea-to-table seafood prepared by Amanda Freitag. The program elevates the traditional role played by food and the dining experience in American diplomatic efforts, and the evening marked the first gathering of the newly created American Chef Corps, a network of 80 chefs from across the United States who have agreed to serve as resources to the Department of State. About 50 of the inaugural 80-member corps were expected to be on hand, including Rick Bayless, Rick Moonen, Art Smith and Bryan Voltaggio. State Department spokesperson Jason Rahlen also spoke of plans to “get chef members plugged in when they are traveling abroad,” connecting them for speaking engagements, cooking demos and roundtable discussions at foreign embassies, and promoting American agricultural products in foreign markets. “Even those who don’t travel widely can receive culinary leaders from abroad here,” Rahlen said.
“This formalizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s concept of food and wine as diplomatic tools,” said Iron Horse CEO Joy Sterling, who was in attendance to pour her wines. “The food was delicious and beautifully presented. Everyone at the State Department seemed thrilled. On my way down from the eighth floor, the elevator operator asked me how it went, and when I told her I thought it was brilliant, she said, 'Why yes. Of course. Who doesn’t love food?'" Begging two questions: Why didn't anyone think of this years ago? And when will we see an American Vintners Corps? Sterling says she already suggested the idea to the powers that be, and we hope they take her up on it.
Unfortunately, as Unfiltered has reported in the past, wine has become a bit of a dirty little secret at White House state dinners: The White House no longer publishes the wine pairings on publicly-released state dinner menus after receiving backlash for serving expensive wines at a time when the economy is struggling (2005 Quilceda Creek was the most recent culprit to draw unwanted attention). In lieu of learning which wines Pres. Barack Obama and his guests are sipping, however, the Brewmaster in Chief has given us his recipes for two beers he makes in the White House kitchen with chef Sam Kass: White House Honey Brown Ale and White House Honey Porter. The honey for the two beers comes from the White House's own South Lawn beehive. You can check out the recipes, as well as a video of the beermaking process in the White House kitchen, at the White House's official blog.
• While there was bittersweet celebration for the retirement of American tennis star Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open last week, there was downright jubilation for the tournament's winners, first-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray and 15-time (!) Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, both of whom took gold medals at the London Olympics this summer as well. Murray, girlfriend Kim Sears and a posse of about 30 headed back to Manhattan after his victory over longtime friend Novak Djokovic to New York's outpost of Hakkasan, an international high-end Chinese chain that originated in London. They proceeded to rack up a $6,500 bar tab at the restaurant's Ling Ling bar, which included five bottles of Louis Roederer cuvées, several glasses and a bottle of Three Saints Santa Barbara Cabernet 2009, 17 "Zesty Martinis" and 1 "Blue Wanda," among much more, including 30 signature tasting menus. Murray himself, however, reportedly sipped a lemon soda all night. Hakkasan, which stayed open late for Murray, went on to comp all the food and drinks, charging just the service charge of $1,289—a nice night for Murray, who'd picked up a check for $1.9 million a few hours earlier. On the women's side, Williams was presented with a jeroboam of Champagne by Moët & Chandon vice president Ludovic du Plessis following her match. The botlle of Moët & Chandon Imperial was blinged out with Serena's name in Swarovski crystals. She had plenty of celebrity support as well, as actresses Amanda Seyfried, Mandy Moore and Minka Kelly, director Baz Luhrmann and chef Marcus Samuellson all cheered her on from the Moët & Chandon suite.
• These days it seems like wine companies are packaging their juice in every container imaginable, from bag-in-a-box wines and aluminum cans to the Astrapouch, which looks like an oversized juice box. Now, just as the latest fall fashions are hitting the runway at New York's Fashion Week (when the guests aren't hitting each other), we discover a new brand from Sweden called Vernissage that packages its wine in a designer purse-shaped box. The vacuum-sealed bag-in-a-box-that-looks-like-a-bag wines are sold in 1.5L and 3L sizes and look like designer handbags (the 4-bottle-capacity 3-liter "purses" will retail for around $35). The grapes come from the Vin de Pays d’Oc region in southern France, and there is a Chardonnay-Viognier blend, a Cabernet-Syrah blend and a rosé (each stylishly packaged in colors complementing their contents, of course). Mare Magnum, a wine company that makes a range of boxed wines from several countries across Europe, produces the brand. The idea came about when company founder Takis Soldatos approached Swedish designer Sofia Blomberg to create an elegant package for the wines. Vernissage is already sold in China, Japan and Europe, and will be available in the U.S. starting next month. Elliot Stern, CEO of Squish Wines, the U.S. company that imports it, said that the men he has shown the box to don’t seem to get the idea, but “women love it.” With such a large market seemingly left unserved by this new phenomenon, Unfiltered is hard at work developing our own bag-in-a-football wine.