They call themselves the world’s most exclusive gastronomic society. And they’re probably not wrong.
In order to be a member of Le Club des Chefs des Chefs, you have to be the chef in charge of feeding a head of state.
And on a sunny Thursday afternoon lakeside in Montebello, Que., this group of top chefs was chowing down on poutine.
“I love my fries and I love my cheese curds and I love my gravy. And they’re all in one package,” said Cristeta Comerford, who has served U.S. presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump at the White House.
It was a deliberate choice, according to Tim Wasylko, the executive chef at the Chateau Montebello who prepared lunch for the chefs. He wanted to give them some Quebec flavour.
Cooking for the chefs is “a lot of fun,” he said. “They appreciate the ingredients. They appreciate the effort. And it’s about fun, sharing memories, good times.” As former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cook, he was a member of the club for five years.
And now, he was cooking lunch and dinner for the club as they stopped in Montebello during their annual meeting. And although the chefs were vacationing – visiting Niagara wineries, tasting the delicacies on offer at Jack Astor’s and touring Parliament Hill – getting to know each other is also a goal.
Having a relationship with the other state chefs is important, said Wasylko. “As a chef, we have the ability to speak to another chef of a world leader that we’re entertaining, find out their likes and dislikes.”
A chat with Israel’s chef Shalom Kadosh really helped him when Benjamin Netanyahu came to dinner. “For me, not being Jewish and entertaining a Jewish leader of his prestige, it definitely was nerve-wracking. But after a 10-minute conversation with Shalom, it settled it. It was an easy dinner.”
Christian Garcia, who has served Monaco’s royal family for 30 years and is the club’s president, said that the chefs have a diplomatic role as well.
“We try, when doing the official lunch or dinner, to create a good atmosphere,” he said.
“If politics divides man, a good table reunites them.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chef, Katie Brown-Ardington, is the club’s newest member. She only started her new job in February and was happy to get a visit from the club’s founder, telling her she was in – and that she would be hosting the annual chefs’ meeting this year.
It felt “overwhelming” to be at her first club meeting, she said, “But everyone in the club is so wonderful and they’re just excited to be here, so it doesn’t make the hosting role hard. Just make sure they’re happy and we all learn stuff from each other.”
At home, she tries to feed the Trudeaus healthy, organic, local food, though at times, “like every person, he has guilty pleasures.”
She wouldn’t say what though. The chefs keep their bosses’ culinary preferences close to their chest.
“I’m not allowed to say,” said Comerford when she was asked about President Trump’s dislikes. “We try not to talk about their private meals and private things.”
Most of the chefs seemed to agree though: no one actually comes home to a full banquet every night. Good food, but simple food, is often the way to go.
“We’re just normal people who want to come home to a good home-cooked meal that would remind us of what Mom always cooked before or what your wife would cook for you. We try to simulate that because it’s their home,” said Comerford.
“We want to make sure that when they kick off their shoes and take their neckties off, they get to really enjoy their private time with their families.”
In the end, said Wasylko, it’s about fuelling a world leader. “In my job it was never about luxury. It was more about making sure that the leader is fuelled for the job that he does, eats healthfully, and is able to perform at his best.”
Brown-Ardington agrees. “The bottom line is, we all do the same thing. We love to cook and we’re cooking for people who make the big decisions. We love what we do and hopefully, we’re nourishing them to the point where they’re making good decisions.”