September 18, 2007

I’ve spent enough time at big, bad catered parties to know that I would never attend a fund-raiser for 1,500 people for the food. But it sounds like the menu at Oprah Winfrey’s blowout September 9 fund-raiser for Barack Obama was as good as the celeb-packed crowd. Winfrey tapped her personal chef, Art Smith (more on his new Chicago restaurant, Table Fifty-Two, later), to cook for the audience while Stevie Wonder performed. Smith’s theme was glam, all-American concession food (he eschewed passed hors d’oeuvres—“Who wants to eat like that at a concert?”—and had servers carry food on trays held by straps around their necks, like old-fashioned cigarette girls). Among the awesome snacks: homemade Yukon Gold potato chips with chile salt, served in paper cones; Southern fried chicken with individual bottles of hot sauce; and steamed corn (with holes drilled in them for sticks, so the fancy-dressed crowd wouldn’t get messy) with queso fresco and herb butter. But the undisputed hit of the night, food-wise, seems to have been the “pigs in pashmina.” Allegedly, Winfrey suggested serving pigs in blankets and Smith (who is my new favorite person in the world) said, “Honey, this is a pashmina crowd.” So he got the best hot dogs he could find from  Allen Brothers in Chicago and wrapped them in American-cheese-like Butterkäse, Dijon mustard and homemade croissant dough, and watched the crowd go crazy.

The food must have been good, because Obama stopped by Smith’s Table Fifty-Two this weekend (though he didn’t bring a 1,500-person crowd with him—Smith’s restaurant seats only 32). While Obama ate shrimp and grits and prime filet, his wife, Michelle, had fried green tomatoes and the special of the night, sautéed catfish. Smith is so sweet, he even fed Obama’s secret service detail. “My first job was taking care of the governor of Florida,” recounted Smith. “So I know it takes a village, and that village has to be fed.”

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