Last month Michelle Obama made a mostly unnoticed stop at Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s temple to Italian food, Babbo. She was there in search of lunch, but we now know the First Lady was probably also doing research, sampling items that Batali will likely feature on the menu of the final Obama state dinner on Tuesday. Gwen Stefani (not Lady Gaga—sorry little monsters) will join the gregarious pony-tailed chef to fill out the evening, which honors Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The event will be the Obama’s 13th state dinner and will cap off what is undoubtedly the hippest series of dinner parties in the history of the White House.
We don’t mean to take anything away from past presidents, but performances from Itzhak Perlman and Paul Anka (attendees at the dinners of Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Regan respectively) did not hold a place the zeitgeist quite like the Obamas’ choices of Beyoncé and John Legend. The complete list of entertainment at Obama state dinners also includes:
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Chinese pianist Lang Lang
Mumford and Sons
Mary J. Blige
The Obamas were also the first to tap guest chefs to cook for state dinners (although Julia Child dropped in as a documentarian during the Johnson administration). Over the last eight years Marcus Samuelson, Rick Bayless, Anita Lo and the aforementioned Batali all received invitations to cook for the first couple and their guests.
Even when they failed, Obama state dinners were edgier than those of other presidents. Whereas past dinners typically stuck to safe standbys—stuffed chicken, roasted lamb, or high-priced steak—when dignitaries from Scandinavia came to the White House the executive chef nodded to the new Nordic cuisine made famous by the likes of René Redzepi. According to a knowledgeable attendee it wasn’t Noma quality, but hey, let’s give them points for trying.
When the next president sets the menu for their first state dinner they will have a lot to live up to. Politics aside, Hillary Clinton looks like she would make some good choices. Donald Trump? Not so much. But who knows, maybe Xi Jinping secretly loves Filet-O-Fish.