State dinner for Manmohan Singh on White House lawn

Washington, Nov 19 ( The Obamas will be holding their first official dinner for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not in the State Dining Room, but in an elaborate white tent erected on the South Lawn of the White House.

President Barrack Obama and first lady Michelle have chosen to go for the tent much like the shamiana at an Indian wedding, though not as colourful, as they plan to host 400 guests, while the State Dining Room inside the White House, favoured by Laura Bush, can seat no more than 140, media reports said.

The Nov 24 dinner is the third White House dinner for India in the last decade: Bill Clinton hosted one in 2000 for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while George W. Bush had one in 2005 for Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur.

The White House has invited award-winning African-American chef Marcus Samuelsson to cook the state dinner honouring India. Samuelsson, of the highly regarded Aquavit in New York City, will be working with White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, according to sources in the food world.

The choice of Samuelsson has come somewhat late in a process that began in early summer. White House assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass sampled food at several restaurants – sometimes with social secretary Desiree Rogers – to see whose work might be suitable.

On the list were Charlie Palmer of Aureole in New York; Michel Nischan of the Dressing Room in Westport, Connecticut; Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico, New York, as well as Samuelsson.

When the selection process shifted to the White House kitchen at the end of last week, Samuelsson had only one rival: Patrick O’Connell from the Inn at Little Washington. Samuelsson did not prepare the tasting himself: he sent his executive chef, Johan Svensson, the Washington Post said.

Though Aquavit serves Swedish food, Samuelsson is well-versed in American cuisine; the title of his latest book is “New American Table.” But one source says the state dinner will feature global cuisine, possibly including a curry dish the Post said, noting the prime minister is described as “an abstemious vegetarian.”

While the White House isn’t confirming anyone on Tuesday’s guest list, engraved invitations went out last week. But look for the usual suspects from the Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators John Kerry, Daniel Inouye and Dick Lugar, and the administration: Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod and golf buddy Melody Barnes, the Post said.

The all-knowing Politico ran its own wish list of top ten invitees, including industrialis Mukesh Ambani, Bollywood star couple Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and writer-turned activist Arundhati Roy.

West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi too makes it to the wish list as a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi whom Obama holds in high esteem. So do Bobby Jindal, the first Indian-American to be elected as governor of a US State, Raj Goyle, a fast emerging young Democratic leader and Raghubir Goyal, ubiquitous White House correspondent of local publication India Globe.

Politico’s wish list also includes Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, Tom DeLay, former House majority leader and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt but misses out on Citi Bank’s Indian American chief executive Vikram Pandit.

“The real guest list won’t be released until right before the event, and the invitations are out. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help the White House with a few dream-team,” the Politico said.