Part I of II: The White House Experience
Martin Mongiello is a former White House Executive Chef, Camp David Resort Manager, Certified Executive Chef, Master Certified Food Executive and Hospitality Industry Expert. A Zagat 27 Rated Inn Owner at his Inn of the Patriots, Mongiello has been featured in numerous local and national broadcast segments and is a highly acclaimed leader in sales, marketing and business strategies. His firm, Mongiello Associates has worked with high profile enterprise accounts such a P&G, Heinz, Metamucil and Wyndham in branding, product creation, planning and more.
The only thing that tops reading about Chef Mongiello is speaking to him – he is as engaging in conversation as his über successful profile. Part one of our two part interview with Chef M. is dedicated to his White House experience.
What was it like to be an Executive Chef to the President?
Very intense – they investigate your entire family and friends for a year beforehand. It’s an elevated position; top secret clearance – safety regarding ingestion and things like that. ‘Who’s the 28 year old that did the shopping for groceries for the meal?’ I was stunned for about half a month; then you get used to the artillery all around you while trying to fit in with everyone.
At Camp David, we’d shop at different stores, never to the same place twice. There are certified providers and sometimes unique ingredients. President Clinton’s pickled watermelon rind threw me for a loop.
‘Pickled watermelon rind’? What is that?
You eat it as a delicacy, usually on the olive tray. I tried it and actually liked it; it’s like pickled corn or okra.
What were some of the challenges you faced from a professional perspective?
Chefs were brought in to work with doctors. You had to learn how to cook all over again, and anyone who didn’t want to do that was asked to leave. For me, it was exciting. I learned how to cook low fat spa cuisine with Dr. Dean Ornish. He worked with me on cooking for preventive medicine. I also got to work with Dr. Connie Mariano. I enjoyed being reprogrammed; some of the chefs did not and left.
State dinners were challenging. Much of what was involved is still considered ‘classified information’ but the non-threatening info had to do with putting it all together. There were usually 40-50 waiters, a dozen chefs and sometimes military chefs.
The night of the dinner was the big crunch – we’d barely finish 10 minutes before the food was served to avoid “rubber chicken” pitfalls. All the chefs would literally form an assembly line over sheets and sheets of food. One chef would work a pastry bag, the next would sprinkle fresh herbs onto that, and so on, following each other down along the line, so the food was absolutely fresh when it went out.
The “Grip & Grin Circuit” was a challenge in creativity. How do you make a dinner stand out when those in attendance go to so many of these types of events? These were people who’d receive 12…13 invitations to dinners like this every week. Where do you find inspiration to keep that fresh?
Where do you?
This is why chefs watch each other a lot. We also keep an eye on every evolving product, read a number of magazines – it’s a mishmosh blend. Sometimes inspirations come from grocery store items, the gourmet market, specialty markets, institutional products, club stores, you may see specific sized things there – you have to always monitor things.