The produce used on the Food Network's Jan. 3 Iron Chef of America two-hour special White House show was billed as being from the White House garden. But the show did not disclose that "stunt double vegetables" were used and not produce from the First Family's garden.
The much ballyhooed show featured a cameo by First Lady Michelle Obama who invited the chefs to pick what they needed from the White House garden in the opening scenes. Mrs. Obama agreed to appear --and give the show access to the garden -- because the episode promoted her healthy eating themes and the garden, her signature first-year project. Iron Chef also reaches an audience that would be interested in Mrs. Obama's local food, anti-obesity and exercise agenda.
The cook-off featured White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford and star chefs Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse. At the top of the show the chefs were greeted by Mrs. Obama who invites them to harvest what they needed from the White House garden in order to complete their challenge of preparing five "ultimate American" dishes using fresh and local ingredients. Comerford, teamed with Flay won the competition. Click play below to watch a segment from the start of the show (Michelle Obama's entrance at 1:30).
"Because this competition was about fresh fruits and vegetables, but also about the American experience, Chef Flay and I decided to cook to our strengths and to our heritages. To highlight the diversity of culinary traditions and flavors that define our country, Chef Flay cooked with his southwestern flair, I brought in recipes from my native Philippines, and we blended it all with unique takes on classic American recipes."
The White House segment was taped in late October. The cook-off actually took place the following week, in what Iron Chef calls its "Kitchen Stadium" in New York City.
So clearly the stuff that was picked that October day at the White House never had a chance of making it on the show because the produce would not be fresh. The use of the "stunt vegetables" was revealed in a November New York Times Marian Burros article and in Obamafoodorama.com, Eddie Gehman Kohan's web site-of-record on anything having to do with food and food policy coming out of the Obama White House. But no one knew until the show if the "stunt double" vegetables would be disclosed.
Viewers were not explicitly told that the vegetables in "Kitchen Stadium" were not the ones they had seen the chefs harvest. Various participants in the show misled viewers with references to "using radishes from the White House garden" and other similar mentions. Except for the honey, no food on the show came from the White House.
Mrs. Obama's East Wing told me the vegetables picked at the White House garden that day in October were donated to a local food kitchen, so nothing went to waste. The week between the harvest the cook-off was due to "scheduling/technical" reasons.
Lisa Krueger, the public relations director for the Food Network, sent an e-mail to me after I raised questions about why viewers were misled.
"As we have told reporters who have covered this story from the beginning, due to the production delay between the shoot at the White House and the shoot at Food Network, the produce used in Kitchen Stadium during the "Super Chef Battle" was not actually from the White House garden." The actual vegetables used, Krueger said, were "locally sourced, and the chefs were only allowed to use the types of produce that they had harvested from the garden themselves."
Obamafoodarama reported that the ratings for the White House Iron Chef of America special "set new viewer records for Food Network. ....With about 4.6 million viewers, it was the highest rated and most-watched show in Food Network's history."
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