Weird History

The Strictest (And Strangest) Stories From Working In The White House Kitchen  

Ryan Sargent
52.1k views 14 items

Everyone needs to eat, even American Presidents and their families. For years, White House chefs have been at the mercy of the First Families, whether they want barbecue every day, dinner for 1,300, or a few tons of jelly beans. It takes a strong individual to survive all the quirks and pressures of cooking for world leaders, and the heat is always on. The only job with more stress is arguably the Secret Service.

While life in the White House can get pretty hectic, that doesn't mean chefs can't have a little fun. Their job has plenty of unusual quirks, such as a team of specialists who examine every last grocery as soon as it reaches the property, and there's arguably no better venue for creating beautiful confectionery works of art. 

It's a veritable fact no other cookery in the US functions quite like the White House kitchen. After all, it's undoubtedly stressful to know everything you cook is consumed by the most powerful people in the world. At least White House chefs' cooking skills can make them some mighty powerful friends. 

Presidents Have Quirky Food And Drink Obsessions
Presidents Have Quirky Food An... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Strictest (And Strangest) Stories From Working In The White House Kitchen
Photo: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has their preference for what they like to see at the dinner table, and Presidents have the power to take their cravings to the next level. Thomas Jefferson was an avid wine lover, going so far as to order bottles directly from France even though it was much more common to order wine in casks in the early 1800s. 

Ronald Reagan loved Jelly Belly brand jelly beans, which he started eating to replace his smoking habit, and which he jokingly said kept the government running smoothly. Reagan even shipped three-and-a-half tons of red, white, and blue jelly beans to Washington for his inauguration. 

The President Has Food Security, But No Poison Tasters
The President Has Food Securit... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Strictest (And Strangest) Stories From Working In The White House Kitchen
Photo: The White House/Obama White House Archives

A lot of effort goes into keeping the president's digestive system safe. Anyone working at the White House, including in the kitchen, must go through an extensive background check. One common misconception is the President has someone tasting all their food to make sure it's not poisoned.

Former White House chef Walter Scheib debunked the rumor, saying the perception was "medieval" and pointing out sophisticated poisons could "take up to a couple of weeks to even have an effect."

National Events Can Shift The Menu
National Events Can Shift The ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Strictest (And Strangest) Stories From Working In The White House Kitchen
Photo: The White House/Picryl

Former White House chef Walter Scheib cooked for the Bush family through 2001 and said the events of September 11 prompted a temporary change. He noticed the menus shifted from a balanced and eclectic group of foods to more safe and familiar meals.

Scheib thought this might have to do with a need for psychological safety, saying "everyone wanted to grab onto an anchor, and in this case, that was food."

The President Actually Pays For Their Own Food

There's no need for taxpayers to scrutinize the President's grocery bills. It's up to the President to pay for all their personal food and drink, as well as a number of other necessities like toothpaste or dry-cleaning. However, state dinners are considered part of the government's operations and are paid for with federal funds.