16/09/2014 10:53 BST | Updated 16/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Cooking for President Obama Was Food for Thought


Food is the world's most powerful leveller... and nothing cements that fact better than being asked to cook for President Barack Obama himself.

Nosh crosses boundaries of language, age, class and race and enlightens us about each of these elements.

Food has become a social glue and the TV is dominated by programmes about it. Smells and tastes have the extraordinary power to evoke visceral memories, like no other trigger.

Our existence revolves entirely around meals and our lives depend on it. It's a central ingredient for traditions like Christmas and Thanksgiving or seminal life moments, from wedding receptions and birthday cakes to religious feasts like Yom Kippur or Eid.

Food choices are the foundation of our health and teach us about different cultures, lifestyles, history and individuals.

Naturally, as Head Chef of London's Manhattan Grill, I'm passionate about food and am fascinatined by other people's relationships with it, because it's one subject that excites everybody, whether it's a fish they caught and cooked themselves, or a family recipe, proudly handed down like a treasured heirloom.

I've cooked for a galaxy of stars, from the Dalai Lama to the president, and people are always eager to find out what and how they ate. The media is increasingly saturated with photographs of celebrities eating and details about their diets.

And that's because food humanises stars and brings them down from the clouds, proving they're just like us, because it's a normal and integral part of everyday life that we all identify with.

However, as I discovered with President Obama, he may eat like the rest of us, but the planning behind each meal is an enormous task, a million miles away from the conventional sarnie cafe-run or casual restaurant nibble.

I was put on standby for an extended period, to cater for the rumblings of Obama's presidential tummy, when I cooked for him during his hotel stay in Warsaw.

Celebrities are often the only clients who see restaurants' kitchens, since they're frequently shepherded past the saucepans and ladles to avoid public areas. And this was the case with the President, who was secretly ushered from his limo in the loading bay, and into a service lift to my kitchen, before being sneaked into his room, where the floor was temporarily shut for the occasion.

Obviously, security needs to be impossibly high, when food and the world's most powerful man are concerned. There are even rumours of the White House's Chef Andrew being Obama's official food taster at public dinners, although I didn't see evidence of this when cooking for him.

And while the rest of us fill meal times with whatever culinary delights tickle our fancies at that moment, the president must decide far in advance, whether he wants a lasagne the following Monday or not. So we were given detailed instructions about what to prepare, way ahead of his visit.

And unlike many celebs, everything he chose was from our menu, with no special requirements, off-menu demands or requests that all brown M&Ms were removed from his candy bowl.

The president headed to our gym, unnannounced, to the eye-popping surprise of various residents sweating over the Cross Trainers, because he refused to have it shut down for his session.

Meanwhile, I had around 15 former Navy Seals from White House security, probing the kitchen and closely watching, as I prepared his amusingly innocuous meal of Free Range eggs, ham and chips. He's definitely a fan of a cheeky chip and snacked on them during his stay, drowned in my homemade salsa.

Of all the celebrities, people are most transfixed by Obama's meals, and that's no surprise: If you are what you eat, what must you chow down on to be 44th president of the United States?

Food is a political marketing tool he frequently uses, to endear himself even more with the world.

Who can forget the time he chest-bumped a man serving him as he collected an enormous take-away order, after the fast food worker shouted "equal rights for gay people?" Or the time he famously praised his retiring White House pastry chef Bill Yosses -- "The Crustmaster" -- for his delicious pies, saying: "I don't know what he does -- whether he puts crack in them, or what," adding "my cholesterol shot up and I thought, it's the pie! So we had to establish a really firm rule about no pie during the week."

My extraordinary experience with Obama gave me a fascinating insight into the power of food, to unite and equalise us all... whether you're a president with ham on the end of a fork which has been scrutinised by 15 guards, or a mum spooning up spuds and Yorkshire Puds on a Sunday.

And that's a truly tasty thought to digest.