WASHINGTON — A slab of dry-aged rib eye beef, American caviar and salad representing the first lady’s garden will be on the four-course menu for the elegant state dinner being given by President Barack Obama for French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday.
The French president traveled to the U.S. alone on the heels of his very public break-up with Valerie Trierweiler, his longtime companion and de facto first lady. The seating arrangements weren’t finalized and there was no word on who will occupy the seat that would have gone to Trierweiler, who once had been expected to attend.
Tuesday night’s bash, inside a huge white tent on the South Lawn, is the first state dinner of Obama’s second term.
The wine list is strictly American, with selections from California, Washington state and Virginia.
So is the entertainment. Mary J. Blige, a nine-time Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, producer and actress born in the Bronx, N.Y., will perform for some 350 guests who will be seated at a modern-looking assortment of round, square and oblong tables inside the tent.
White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard, who on Monday helped preview the dinner for U.S. and French media, explained the choice of Blige by saying she’s an internationally known singer who can help celebrate someone like the first-term French president. Blige is an Obama supporter who performed at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Hollande arrived in the U.S. on Monday and spent the afternoon with Obama touring Monticello, the Charlottesville, Va., home of President Thomas Jefferson, who was an early U.S. envoy to France. A formal welcoming ceremony will come Tuesday morning.
As of Monday, one of the most oft-asked questions of any state dinner was still unanswered. Who will design Michelle Obama’s gown?
At the dinner, guests will first enter the White House and proceed through a receiving line to be greeted inside the oval-shaped Blue Room by Obama and his wife, before exiting and boarding an old-fashioned trolley for a ride to the tent for dinner and Blige’s high-octane musical performance.
The first course will feature American Osetra caviar, farmed from the estuaries of Illinois, paired with quail eggs from Pennsylvania and a dozen varieties of potatoes from farms in New York, Idaho and California.
That will be followed by a salad of petite radishes and baby carrots on a bed of lettuce and splashed with red-wine vinaigrette made using honey from the beehive on the South Lawn. The salad will be served in a clear, glass bowl and resemble a terrarium.
The main course, dry-aged rib eye beef from a farm in Greeley, Colo., will be served with blue cheese, charred shallots, oyster mushrooms and braised chard.
Dessert is chocolate malted cake, described as a modern version of a layer cake made with bittersweet chocolate from Obama’s native Hawaii, Florida tangerines and served with vanilla ice cream from Pennsylvania. After dinner, guests can dip into a serving dish made entirely of sugar to sample fudge made of Vermont maple syrup, shortbread cookies made with lavender from Mrs. Obama’s garden and cotton candy dusted with orange zest.
The square and round tables are covered in blue with clear-backed chairs, while the oblong tables have mirrored tops.
The White House florist, who studied floral artistry in Paris, created French-inspired bouquets that are meant to evoke the feeling of a painting by Monet, the French impressionist. The “deconstructed” arrangements — that means the flowers and greenery are not all in one vase but are in separate vessels — were made using quince branches, acacia leaves, white and purple iris flowers and bamboo.