Hail to the chef

By on July 1, 2014
From the White House to the Lititz Farmers Market, Chef John Moeller (left) talks shop with Digory the dog, Toni Stirgwolt (with hat) and her friend. (photo by Michele Walter Fry)

From the White House to the Lititz Farmers Market, Chef John Moeller (left) talks shop with Digory the dog, Toni Stirgwolt (with hat) and her friend. (photo by Michele Walter Fry)

Former White House Chef John Moeller was mingling at the Lititz Farmers Market last Saturday, and giving a cooking demo of a popular dish he served for three of our past presidents.

Since I’m about healthy eating, I questioned him about the First Families’ health habits and in particular, President Clinton, since he seemed to have an obsession with Big Macs.

“Clinton got a bad rap on that,” said Moeller. “When he was on the road again for the campaign for his presidency, they didn’t have much to choose from. Food was fuel at that time, basically.”

“Nobody had time to sit down and eat herb crusted chicken while you’re on a tour bus. But when he got to the White House, he was very health conscious. All of the presidents were,” said Moeller.

“I had two types of cooking I did there,” he continued. “I cooked for the family, for them and their guests, but we were also a banquet house where we cooked state dinners and everything else, where we cooked richer foods. But when we cooked for the family, all of them said they wanted less caloric foods, because when they were on the road they were exposed to such high caloric foods.”

“Clinton never said, ‘How about Big Macs tonight?’ Moeller confirmed. “I never, ever put burgers on the menu as a dinner item.”

Michelle Obama’s personal vegetable garden has been in recent news. I wanted to get an opinion of what he thinks of it and if she’s really out there with her Crocs and wide-brimmed hat.

“The First Ladies of my time also had their own gardens,” said Moeller. “It’s hype, but I think it’s good hype. Anything about food and making people aware of where it comes from, and maybe they can do it themselves, is great!”

Since it is more difficult to get outside food that is safe for the president, they have many gardens at the White House. Even the roof is used as a garden with potted vegetable plants and herbs, which also serves as camouflage when being viewed from the sky.

As a 10-year-old girl, I didn’t look to Farrah Fawcett. I looked to Jackie “O”. What was she wearing, what was she saying, and exactly how was she saying it? Women studied her every move. Although Moeller didn’t cook under her, I had to see if I could get any detail related to her time in the White House. I thought for sure her “pattern” would have been at the Smithsonian for decades now.

“They’re still used all the time,” Moeller said, referring to the Kennedys’ dishes. “We also used Truman’s, Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s a lot. The past presidents’ dishes were used for everything, from everyday meals to big dinners. The dishes used are chosen to match the food, flowers, napkins, tablecloths.”

Moeller’s book, “Dining at the White House,” reveals an intimate, human view of the First Families. He cooked for them in their private residence in the White House, and then created menus for influential world leaders. Talk about pressure.

“What they would have to do, to keep everything hot and ready to serve at big state dinners, I thought was tremendous,” said Toni Stirgwolt, who had her books signed by Moeller at market. “Here, we try to get something out at Thanksgiving for eight to keep it hot. Doing it for 800 is amazing.”

“It’s interesting that John has Lancaster County roots, coming from Willow Street Vo-Tech,” Stirgwolt added. She’s going to give one book to a friend who collects First Lady place settings.

Moeller is starting to receive awards for his book, gold for best autobiography and cook book and a silver award for best celebrity memoir.

I had to ask him about George W. Bush. Moeller said he is exactly like what you see.

“When he was entertaining his guests, he gets everybody rolling,” said Moeller.

The cute and stylish Julie Graybill was out perusing the market Saturday. I’ve had my eye on the garlic scapes sold from vendor Creek Side Farm Market, but didn’t get around to figuring out what to do with them. Graybill had the brilliant idea to use them as a visual centerpiece. She said she was entertaining guests that night.

“I like interesting things,” she said. “I like things to be uneven. I like abstract.”

I’ve never mentioned that Lititz is “cool,” because if you have to say you’re cool, well, you’re not. But Graybill is cool, an example of Lititz attitude, and I love her garlic scape arranging idea!

The following is an excerpt from Chef Moeller’s book:

Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast with White Wine Butter Sauce

A caption mentions that this dish was on the menu for a luncheon honoring Her Excellency Megawati Soekarnoputri, president of the Republic of Indonesia on Sept. 19, 2001.

Chef’s note: “I was always looking for interesting light fare to make for lunch. This idea came from a restaurant that I worked at in France, Chez Camille. I thought that if I could crust the chicken with this wonderful mixture of herbs, it would not only give a dramatic presentation, but it would taste great also. This combination of herbs is known as fine herbs and blend together well. I’m always looking to create new ways to prepare chicken.”

Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast

Serves six. Preparation time is 30 minutes. Cook time is 30 minutes.

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chives

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon finely chopped chervil, optional

¼ cup flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

6 (5-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 egg white, lightly whipped

¼ cup unsalted clarified butter

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil in shallow bowl. Place flour in separate small bowl, and stir in salt and pepper. Dredge skin side only of chicken breast in flour, and shake off excess. Dip floured side of chicken in egg white, and shake off excess. Place chicken breast on plate, floured-and-egg side up. Evenly sprinkle chicken with fine herb mixture.

Heat medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add clarified butter. In batches, place chicken herb-side down in pan, and gently sauté 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to sheet pan herb-side up, and finish in oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

White Wine Butter Sauce

Preparation time is 10 minutes Cook time is 20 minutes.

½ cup dry white wine

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

6 black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

½ cup heavy cream

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt and fresh milled black pepper

In small saucepot over medium-high heat, combine wine, shallots, peppercorns, and bay leaves, and bring to simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until reduced by 90 percent. Add the cream, and continue to simmer for five minutes, or until reduced by 50 percent. Reduce heat to medium low, and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Stir in lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into another small saucepot, and keep warm over low heat. Do not boil (the sauce will separate).

Michele Walter Fry and Digory (the furry one pictured interviewing) are freelance reporters. Their column “Taste of Lititz” is a regular feature in the Record Express, and they welcome your comments at michelewalterfry@gmail.com.

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