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Former White House Chef to Visit Happy Valley

by and on July 13, 2014 12:00 PM

Being catapulted inside the trust of the First Family and Secret Service is not something most people are privilege to.

John Moeller found himself in this position, however, after he returned from his time abroad as a chef and student.

Moeller, a White House chef for 14 years and Pennsylvania native, will visit State College as part of Happy Valley Culinary Week to promote “Dining at the White House: From the President’s Table to Yours.”

In his memoir, Moeller details his time abroad as a cook at various bistros and restaurants in France. He then goes into his return to the United States and how he found himself as a chef in the White House. There are also more than 100 recipes from menus that Moeller prepared for special events at the White House and First Family dinners.

On Monday, July 14, Moeller will sign copies of his book from 2 to 4 p.m. at Kitchen Kaboodle, 104 W. Beaver Ave., in State College. From there, Moeller will be available for conversation and a book signing from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Penn State Downtown Theatre, 146 S. Allen St., in State College.

Copies of his book will be available for purchase at Kitchen Kaboodle for $35.

From 1992 to 2005, Moeller served three first families. He was able to use his experiences from France coupled with his love of using fresh, healthy and local ingredients to produce authentic and unique dishes.

As one of the few “privileged to be on the inside looking out,” Moeller calls it was a “pinch yourself” experience.

“I would ask myself,” he says, “‘is this really happening?’” Moeller recalled meeting First Lady Barbara Bush during his first luncheon as head chef, which he describes as “extraordinary.”

“(The first families) were like our friends,” he says. “We were inside their circle. The best part, was I saw them in a non-political light. We were there to make their stay as comfortable as possible.”

After he left the White House in 2005, Moeller says the possibility of sharing his experiences was always in the back of his mind.

Moeller and his family left the Washington, D.C., area in 2010 and moved to his hometown of Lancaster, where he opened State of Affairs Catering. While doing events, Moeller would frequently talk to the guests about his time at the White House, which he says was always received well and had people interested.

Soon after, Lancaster-based publishing house, American Lifestyle Publishing, approached Moeller about catering an event.

“I said, ‘Hey, I have a story for you,’” he says. From there, he met with Mike Lovell, the company’s owner, and the two collaborated to create the memoir/cookbook hybrid.

Moeller’s original idea for the book was “Menus of the White House,” which would feature the more than 400 menu cards of the meals he prepared during his 14 years there. He quickly realized, however, that his culinary journey needed to be explained and include some historical information.

Since being published last September, “Dining at the White House” has received two Benjamin Franklin awards (a gold medal for Best Cookbook of the Year and a silver medal for Best Memoir of the Year) and one IPPY award (silver medal for Best Celebrity Memoir of the Year). It was also a Book of the Year award finalist for Best Cookbook of the Year. All of this, Moeller says, “complete shocked” him.

Throughout his culinary career, Moeller has always been big on using local and fresh ingredients in dishes. He began attending the Lancaster Central Market—the country’s oldest continuously operating farmers market, according to its website — in the 60s and 70s when he was still discovering his passion for cooking.

“I was exposed to it at a young age,” he says. When Moeller attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island and then studied and worked in France, he was able to incorporate his knowledge and love of using local foods even more.

“I still love to go to the market and see what looks fresh and good,” he says. Sometimes, Moeller doesn’t even go with a specific meal in mind. With no plan, he is able to create something unique and quite often with new ingredients.

“That’s what cooking is all about,” he says. While Moeller worked at the White House, he had a 20-by-50 foot garden in his backyard where he grew a variety of foods. From there, he would often bring things, like fresh salad greens, for the first family and other White House diners.

“The first ladies loved that,” Moeller says.

Moeller has recently frequented the State College and Penn State area to attend classes on teaching techniques for a culinary class he taught. Although Moeller is no longer teaching, it might be something he revisits in the future.

Moeller currently lives with his wife, Suryati, and two sons, Alexander and Zachary, in Lancaster.

Happy Valley Culinary Week is a weeklong celebration of local food and restaurants. In addition, there will be chef demonstrations among other activities throughout Centre County.

For more information and a complete list of events during Happy Valley Culinary Week, visit www.happyculinaryweek.com.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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