Millets, mushrooms and saffron-infused risotto on White House state dinner menu for PM Modi

The State Dinner will take place in a pavilion on the South Lawn draped in greens and saffron, honouring the colours of the Indian flag and the strength and heritage they represent.
White House chefs Cristeta Comerford (L), Susan Morrison (R) and guest chef Nina Curtis hold dishes during a media preview on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. (Photo | AP)
White House chefs Cristeta Comerford (L), Susan Morrison (R) and guest chef Nina Curtis hold dishes during a media preview on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. (Photo | AP)

WASHINGTON: Marinated millet, corn kernel salad and stuffed mushrooms are on the menu for 400 guests invited to the White House dinner being hosted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Observing that the prime minister is a vegetarian, First Lady Jill Biden on Wednesday said she asked Chef Nina Curtis -- who specialises in plant-based cuisine -- to work with the White House staff and create a stunning vegetarian menu.

Guests will have the option to add fish to their main course as well, she said during the media preview for the State Dinner on Thursday at the White House's South Lawn.

Modi arrived here from New York where he led a historic event at the UN Headquarters earlier in the day to commemorate the 9th International Day of Yoga, attended by UN officials, diplomats and prominent personalities. He is visiting the US from June 21-24 at the invitation of President Joe Biden and the First Lady.

Giving details on the State Dinner that will be hosted for PM Modi, the First Lady said, "Tomorrow night, guests will walk across the South Lawn into a pavilion draped in rich greens with saffron-coloured flowers at every table -- the colours of the Indian flag."

More than 400 guests have been invited for the dinner at the specially decorated pavilion on the South Lawn of the White House, Jill Biden said.

The first course on the State Dinner will include marinated millet, grilled corn kernel salad, compressed watermelon and a tangy avocado sauce.

The main course includes stuffed portobello mushrooms and a creamy saffron-infused risotto.

Upon request, guests would be served sumac-roasted sea bass, lemon-dill yoghurt sauce, crisped Millet cakes and summer squashes, according to the menu.

For dessert is rose and cardamom-infused strawberry shortcake.

Wines on the list are Stone Tower Chardonnay "Kristi" 2021, PATEL Red Blend 2019 and Domain Carneros Brut Rose.

California-based Chef Curtis said, "It is truly a pleasure to be able to work with the First Lady and help her to bring her culinary vision to life... we have curated a menu that really showcases the best in American cuisine and also then seasoned with Indian elements and flavours," she said.

"We are also very excited that India is leading efforts to celebrate the International Year of the Millets. We have incorporated marinated millets into our menu and the Indian cuisine elements throughout the menu," the chef said.

White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo, previewing the State Dinner, said the First Lady has been involved in this event at every step.

Every element of the dinner and decor has been chosen to make each guest's experience personal and warm, Elizondo said.

The decor of the venue features elements that honour the tradition and cultures of the US and India, including the Indian flag, he said.

"The inspiration for our design really began with the peacock, India's national bird. From the invitations to the programmes to the pavilion, we wanted to evoke that breathtaking feeling when it extends its tail, unveiling its colourful beauty, majesty, and strength," the social secretary said.

"Green draping will flow from the ceiling, giving way to tables cloaked in the saturated blues and greens of Indian silks, falling onto a carpet of navy blue. The hues, not only a nod to our guests but also to our host, as blue and green are also two of Dr (Jill) Biden's favourite colours," Elizondo said.

Each table will feature an arrangement of blooms in vases large and small, and the colour of the flowers mirrors the saffron of India's flag and the heritage it represents, he said.

The social secretary said as leaders have done at State Dinners for decades, the president and the prime minister will give their toasts from an eagle lectern.

"For this dinner, embossed on the rich forest green backdrop behind them, we have replicated that iconic eagle and a peacock in the same style, framing the leaders with their national birds.

In the peacock's talons, stalks of millets, a nod to India's successful campaign to declare 2023 the International Year of Millets," he said.

Elizondo said around them are lotus flowers which are important symbols in India.

"Their gleaming petals remind us, that each day, our nations bloom stronger and more radiant, together. Throughout the space, you will see more images of lotuses, their design inspired by the mandala illustrations found in traditional Indian art," he added.

Peacock and Bald Eagle: Imagery of India's national bird, the peacock, and America's national bird, the bald eagle, will serve as the backdrop to President Biden and Prime Minister Modi's toasts for the evening.

Lotus Blooms: A longstanding feature in Indian design throughout history and inspired by mandala-style illustrations found in traditional Indian art, the lotus flower is incorporated throughout the decor and tablescapes.

Following the dinner, guests will enjoy musical selections from the following performers: Joshua Bell, American Violinist and Conductor.

Joshua Bell is a GRAMMY Award-winning violinist, soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and conductor, and currently the Music Director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Bell's highlights in the 2023-24 season include an international tour of his newly-commissioned project, The Elements, featuring works by renowned living composers.

Penn Masala, a South Asian A Cappella Group will also perform at the event. They are known for original compositions and harmonies that traverse traditions and capture the experience of growing up with both Eastern and Western cultures. Penn Masala has performed around the world, including at the Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) Awards.

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band Chamber Orchestra will also perform at the event. For more than two centuries, the United States Marine Band has been part of the events that have shaped the Nation. Established by an Act of Congress in 1798, the Marine Band is America's oldest continuously active professional music organization and made its White House debut on New Year's Day 1801.

(With inputs from PTI and ANI)

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