A little-known but very awesome piece of culinary diplomacy is Le Club des Chefs des Chefs, or in awkward English, “Leaders’ Chefs’ Club.” Created in 1977 by Gilles Bragard, the designer of chef uniforms, it is an informal organization bringing together the head chefs of various heads of state – that is, the chefs who cook for the world’s presidents, prime ministers, and royalty. There are currently 25 countries represented by the Club (though it has 26 members – China has 2 chefs).
In diplomacy we talk about negotiations ‘at the summit,’ meaning those which take place at the height of nations’ political authority. In Culinary Diplomacy, then, we can extend the definition to meetings which take place at the height of nations’ culinary authority, or more precisely, culinary political authority, if you will (because who really is the highest authority on a nations’ cuisine? Tough to say.)
Meetings of the Club, therefore, are at the summit of culinary diplomacy. Bragard originally convened the organization with the motto ‘Politics divides men, but a good meal unites them.’ More recently, French Président François Hollande had this to say about the work of the Club: “Depending on whether you bring pleasure to those you serve, they will leave a negotiation either happy or unhappy.” This seems like quite a bit of pressure to place on these chefs – M. Hollande makes it seem like the meal is more important than the negotiation itself in deciding the outcome! How French.
Cristeta Comerford, Executive Chef at the White House, is the American representative to the Club, and one of its few female members. Comerford, while in France, was asked by a reporter if French food was the best in the world. She had obviously expected the question: “French food is like classical piano, and we chefs are all classically trained. But in the U.S., we play jazz — and improvise!” (Source, NYTimes Magazine) That’s just amazing. Thank you, Chef Comerford, for answering my question about what American food is – we improvise.
The Club has three main values:
- Promoting the cuisine of each country;
- The diplomatic role of the chef; and
- Health and well-being
I love this. This precisely defines the role of a chef representing his or her head of state: protecting their own country’s culinary traditions ensures authenticity and puts on display the true nature of a cuisine. The diplomatic role can’t be stated enough, of course – French diplomat Talleyrand told Napoleon “Give me good cooks and I will give you good treaties.” And health and well-being are ever-important to all of us, from world leaders on down. Heads of state are treated to receptions and banquets all the time, which combined with the stresses of the job can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. The chef is there to ensure this doesn’t happen, and in the case of Michelle Obama’s White House, this promotion of good health is its own form of culinary diplomacy.
And their logo is perfect:
Peace doves and a chef’s toque, flying over the world. What could better represent the mission of these chefs?
(Photos and logo from http://www.club-des-chefs-des-chefs.com/)