Seasons by the Sea: The Presidential Palate

The eating habits of presidents and presidential hopefuls has been a fascination of mine for many decades
Renee Comet; Wikimedia Commons

If you are what you eat, then Donald Trump is a basket of, I mean, bucket of, deplorable K.F.C. chicken, washed down with Diet Coke.   “If he had any class, he’d eat Popeye’s,” grumbled my gourmet offspring when he heard this revealing tidbit.

The eating habits of presidents and presidential hopefuls has been a fascination of mine for many decades. If Dukakis had beaten Bush in 1988, would there have been glorious Greek dishes served at the White House state dinners? Perhaps, but instead we got Barbara Bush’s ultra-WASP-y layered pea salad, redolent with mayonnaise and iceberg lettuce petals. Dubyah and Laura enjoyed Blue Bell ice cream, Richard Nixon ate cottage cheese with ketchup, the Clintons tried to emphasize American foods and wines, and the Obamas brought a little bit of Chicago and Hawaii to the table. More importantly, Michelle Obama tried to improve American children’s eating habits with her “Let’s Move” campaign, and installed a kitchen garden and beehives at the White House. 

White House chefs do not necessarily change with administrations. Many chefs have overlapped between Democratic and Republican presidents. Cristeta Comerford, Sam Kass, Walter Scheib, and more have worked through many First Family’s tastebuds.

I fear the White House kitchen garden will be turned into a putting green with gold-plated markers. Mr. Trump has already declared he’d like to do away with state dinners. “We should be eating a hamburger at a conference table.” He likes his hamburgers well done and his steaks so overcooked they “rock on the plate,” according to a former butler. 

Perhaps none of this should be a surprise. A lot of super busy, hugely successful businessmen can’t be bothered with micro greens and farm-to-table stuff and meals with the family and those things called “vegetables.” If you attempt to research Donald Trump’s favorite vegetables you are led to a site showing corn silk and its resemblance to his mysteriously fascinating hair job.

So here are some favorite foods of Trump’s: See’s Candies, cherry vanilla ice cream, burgers, pizza without the crust, bacon with overcooked eggs, the Trump Grill taco bowl, Cornflakes, Caesar salad, spaghetti, his mother’s meatloaf, the aforementioned K.F.C. chicken, and McDonald’s “fish delight,” as he calls it. He eschews tea, coffee, and alcohol and drinks Diet Coke with everything. He said once: “I’ve never seen a skinny person drinking Diet Coke.” Neither have we, sir, neither have we. 

He prefers individually wrapped butter pats because, “I don’t like those little flower butters, there’s always a fingerprint on them.” He is known to be germaphobic and insists that fast food is cleaner than other foods. “I think you’re better off going there than maybe someplace that you have no idea where the food’s coming from. It’s a certain standard.” Ingredients of the McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish, a.k.a. “fish delight,” 390 calories, 19 grams of fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 590 milligrams of sodium: pollock, American cheese, tartar sauce, and too many preservatives and flavor enhancers to list here.

What about the rest of the family? His daughter Ivanka keeps a kosher kitchen at home and says she enjoys a pastrami sandwich from the Second Avenue Deli. She offered up a recipe for broccoli kugel for a glossy magazine. It is made with frozen broccoli. 

One of the salads at Trump Grill is named after her, so let’s assume she likes that too. It is a chopped mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta, cured olives, and romaine lettuce with Greek dressing. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Palm’s Monday Night Chop Chop salad or, dare I say, Rowdy Hall’s Mr. Smith’s salad!

Melania Trump, whippet thin like all the ladies in his life, obviously eats a different diet from her husband’s. She eats seven portions of fruit every day and says she enjoys chocolate and ice cream in moderation. She claims to also only drink Diet Coke with meals but methinks that’s just the geisha girl in her speaking.

Eric Trump is said to be the real cook in the family, and he reportedly makes many dishes he learned from his grandmother, Ivana’s mother, Marie Zelnickova. Chicken paprikash, borscht, and strawberry dumplings are some of his Czech specialties. 

The Trump family may or may not install its own kitchen staff at the White House. Some chefs rumored to be in the running are David Burke, a talented man with a significant restaurant empire who cooked on the Trump Princess in 1988. Joe Isidori, who was a chef at Southfork Kitchen on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, is another possibility. He cooked for Trump from 2003 to 2008 and specializes in burgers and milkshakes. Awesome. Perfect.

So don’t expect any soigné state soirees serving extraordinary or even interesting foods. It could be more like the Hamburglar, Papa John, Wendy, and Colonel Sanders at the First Table.

Click for recipes