President Jimmy Carter's Unexpected Request For White House Chefs

When Swiss-born chef Henry Haller was hired to work at the White House as its second executive chef by President Lyndon B Johnson in 1966, he had no illusions about how challenging his job would be. Not only would Haller need the ability to handle state banquets involving the most important leaders both in the country and globally, but he also needed to know how to work with all the presidents that he would eventually serve. As Haller pointed out to Swiss Info in 2003, every president he worked with preferred different foods.

The chef revealed Lyndon Johnson was partial to lobster thermidor. And Richard Nixon, who famously banned soup from state dinners, at least liked his polenta. But Jimmy Carter had a different type of request altogether, which the president himself revealed when he spoke to Oprah Winfrey. Though strongly associated with peanuts (and he certainly enjoyed PB&J, peanut brittle, and deep-fried peanuts, according to The New York Times), Carter enjoyed Southern stables like collard greens and sweet corn. The Georgia native also reportedly enjoyed homemade peach ice cream and nearly any cheese but Swiss, to which he was allergic. There appeared to be some concern that the chef would not be able to produce the country food the Carters wanted, leading to a request for the chefs.

Carter's White House chefs were asked about cooking country food

A member of Jimmy Carter's staff was sent to ask the White House chefs if they could cook country food. They said, "Yeah, we've been cooking that kind of meal for the servants for the last 20 years" (via That wasn't the only time chef Henry Haller would be called upon to prepare the Carters' preferred Southern-style cuisine. When Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira paid a visit to the White House in 1979, he really wanted an American barbecue, explains People. So the staff chose to put together a meal of roast buffalo, suckling pig, as well as barbecued chicken. Given that the members of the Carter administration and the visiting Japanese contingent were meant to discuss weighty matters that included diplomatic deals and trade disputes, the press eventually dubbed the event "barbecue diplomacy."

But even as President Jimmy Carter appeared to have different tastes from those that preceded him, and from Ronald Reagan who came after him – Haller revealed Reagan was partial to Italian cuisine, per Swiss Info – all the presidents the chef served shared two qualities: They all liked eating simply, and they were disinclined to eat starters or desserts because they were afraid of gaining weight. No surprise then that when the time came for Rosalynn Carter to find a new pastry chef, she chose Roland Mesnier, who promised not to opt for decadent desserts but instead would choose foods like fruit, per BBC.