Once upon a time, George H.W. Bush vomited at a banquet hosted by the prime minister of Japan and declared his hatred of broccoli, the Eisenhowers served Saltines to Greek royalty, and a German-speaking JFK accidentally informed Berliners that he was, in fact, a jelly doughnut. But times have changed: This week, we learn that the State Department is sending our top chefs to cook abroad in the name of diplomacy and that the Top Chef franchise is busting into Portugal and Romania, meaning the chef-export business is a-booming.
First, Top Chef: Though it has aired Stateside since approximately the dawn of time and it has foreign versions in plenty of countries, Portugal and Romania have thus far been deprived of local versions. No more, as the two countries are officially getting their own editions. Everyone there is very excited. The Portuguese even managed to snag local celebrity Silvia Alberto, known for her work on the local version of Dancing With the Stars, to fill Padma Lakshmi’s role. NBC modestly says the show has “universal appeal” and predicts great success. Also, this could be hopeful news for Pee-Wee Herman’s career.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports on an interesting wrinkle in Obama’s diplomatic efforts: He’s launched a new culinary ambassador program, called the American Chef Corps, overseen by the State Department. (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reportedly an adventurous diner.) Chefs like José Andrés, Ming Tsai, and Rick Bayless will travel abroad to “use food as a diplomatic tool” and showcase America’s finest wares at international events. There’s a sartorial benefit, too: The chosen chefs will don dapper navy jackets adorned with the American flag, the seal of the State Department, and their names embroidered in gold. Snazzy.
The fate of both efforts remains to be seen, but one thing seems inevitable: It’s only a matter of time before Top Chef Portugal springs for a party cruise challenge with Michelle Obama and Ann Romney.