WASHINGTON — Butter-poached Maine lobster, beef with shallot marmalade and an American cheese trio will be served when French President Emmanuel Macron takes his seat as the guest of honor at a red-white-and-blue themed White House state dinner, the first for President Joe Biden.
Dessert will be orange chiffon cake, roasted pears and creme fraiche ice cream.
Everything from the menu to the entertainment to the table settings and other touches were designed by the White House — and first lady Jill Biden — to highlight the ties that bind America and its oldest ally, France. Red, white and blue are the colors of both countries’ flags.
A state dinner is a high diplomatic honor that the United States reserves for its closest allies.
Biden said she was handling Thursday’s glitzy dinner in the same way that her mother handled family dinners when she was growing up. Her mother brought out the china, fresh flowers and lit candles “even if we were only having fish sticks from the freezer.”
“I learned that setting a table can be an act of love,” the first lady said, before staff allowed journalists to see the tablescapes for the dinner, which is part of a broader state visit to the United States by Macron and his wife, Brigittte. Macron landed in the U.S. on Tuesday night.
Biden said the first White House state dinner since 2019 will be “an expression of welcome and friendship, a way to connect through a language that transcends words.” She did not take questions from reporters and departed the State Dining Room, where the preview was held, after her brief remarks.
White House social secretary Carlos Elizondo, who has worked for the Bidens for more than a decade, said “making people feel comfortable and at home” matters most to the couple.
The glitzy, black-tie dinner party will be held in a heated pavilion on the South Lawn with an expected 300 or so guests. They will be seated at a mix of square and rectangular tables, covered with dark blue silk cloths and decorated with red candles and arrangements of red, white and blue flowers, including roses and irises, the official flower of France.
China from the White House collection will not be used since it is not allowed outside of the house. Guests will dine on outside tableware.
An image of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the U.S. from France in the 1800s, will be the backdrop for toasts by the presidents. American sparkling wine poured into silver French champagne vessels will be served for the toasts.
White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford reserved a special a shout-out for Maine’s lobster workers.
“They had to ship 200 live lobsters to us yesterday morning,” she said.
This year the guests, who are supporters and friends of both presidents, officials from both governments, business people and some celebrities, will have the added bonus of arriving at a White House that has been decked out for the holidays with Christmas trees, wreaths and garland. Trolley cars will ride them down to the see-through pavilion on the South Lawn.
Music will be provided by Jon Batiste, a Grammy Award-winning New Orleans native who most recently was bandleader and musical director of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Joining Batiste will be his father, Michael Batiste, the U.S. Marine Band and the Army and Air Force Strolling Strings.
The event was produced with help from Fete, an event planning company based in New York City.
Jill Biden recalled that, when she flew to Japan to support Team USA in the Olympics, she ended up cheering alongside Macron during a three-on-three basketball game. Although they were rooting for opposing teams, “there was a comradery that we shared,” she said.
With the state dinner, she said “our hope is that the end result will be a night that balances the beauty of our friendship with a seriousness of purpose, and we hope that French citizens everywhere feel the warmth of our welcome.”
Thursday’s dinner, the first in three years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will not be a new experience for Macron. The French president was invited to the U.S. on a state visit by then-President Donald Trump in 2018.
Trump and his wife, Melania, took Macron and his wife on a helicopter ride over Washington — a city designed by Frenchman Pierre L’Enfant — and the Potomac River to Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington, America’s first president. Macron was also recognized at a state dinner.
The first state dinner of a new administration always attracts a lot of attention and sets the bar for how the president and first lady approach entertaining, said Anita McBride, who worked for three presidents and was chief of staff to Laura Bush when she was first lady.
“In terms of the public, most visible event that any White House or any president and first lady could have entertaining on the global stage that is the White House, this is it,” McBride said.
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