Book Review: The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from Washington to the Obamas

The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the ObamasThe President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas by Adrian Miller
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Release Date: February 20, 2017
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

James Beard award–winning author Adrian Miller vividly tells the stories of the African Americans who worked in the presidential food service as chefs, personal cooks, butlers, stewards, and servers for every First Family since George and Martha Washington. Miller brings together the names and words of more than 150 black men and women who played remarkable roles in unforgettable events in the nation’s history. Daisy McAfee Bonner, for example, FDR’s cook at his Warm Springs retreat, described the president’s final day on earth in 1945, when he was struck down just as his lunchtime cheese soufflé emerged from the oven. Sorrowfully, but with a cook’s pride, she recalled, “He never ate that soufflé, but it never fell until the minute he died.”

A treasury of information about cooking techniques and equipment, the book includes twenty recipes for which black chefs were celebrated. From Samuel Fraunces’s “onions done in the Brazilian way” for George Washington to Zephyr Wright’s popovers, beloved by LBJ’s family, Miller highlights African Americans’ contributions to our shared American foodways. Surveying the labor of enslaved people during the antebellum period and the gradual opening of employment after Emancipation, Miller highlights how food-related work slowly became professionalized and the important part African Americans played in that process. His chronicle of the daily table in the White House proclaims a fascinating new American story.

The President’s Kitchen Cabinet is a history of African Americans who have worked in the White House kitchen from the time of George Washington through Barak Obama. Rather than being organized chronologically or by cook (the author uses cook and chef interchangeably), it’s organized by topic, like food, drink, etc. It seemed somewhat scattered and disorganized.

This book was not what I was expecting based on the title. I thought it would delve more deeply into the personal lives of the cooks and how being a cook in the White House affected it. It seemed like most of the information was either about the food itself or the president the cook worked for. While I enjoyed the book, I wanted more. Some of the people included in this book were also in The Residence: In the Private World of the White House. I wish I had a copy of that book to cross-reference with this one but unfortunately, I checked that book out of the library when I read it way back when.

Miller included recipes that were either directly from or inspired by the cooks in the book. It was interesting to read about the different cooking techniques that were used. Some were pretty complicated!

I did learn a few things from this book and if you are really interested in African American or presidential history, then it’s worth a read.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

  • S.G. Wright

    It sounds like the book could have been organized better! Like by chronology. That would’ve help. It seems like the other WH book about staff you read was a bit better. Like you, I think I would’ve needed more with this one !