The White House's complex pan-African dinner prep

When Africa's leaders get together at the dinner table Tuesday night, there will likely be plenty of things they don't agree on. White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford's job is to make sure food isn't one of them.

She's heading up the kitchen as President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama host nearly 50 African leaders and their delegations for a state dinner-style event in celebration of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Under a tent on the White House South Lawn, to the tunes of Lionel Richie, Comerford is responsible for pleasing the palates of 400 expected guests. Something she says is no easy task.

"We do a lot of intense research," she said, "you don't want to exclude different areas [of Africa]."

africanleaders2.jpg

Preparing for President Obama's African Summit Dinner, Aug. 4, 2014.

CBS News/Jillian Hughes

And it's not just about taking into account different tastes, but also accommodating a vast array of African customs.

"It's one of the bigger undertakings that we have done because you have to know that it's all 50 different leaderships with all kinds of different dietary restrictions and religious persuasions," she said.

So the kitchen strategy for four different courses and a total of 1600 plates, is going to be to stick with American traditions, but flavor dishes with African influence.

"We want to give it nuances of different spices and flavors of Africa, like Madagascar Vanilla, some saffron, some wonderful cumin," she said, "we want to give it just that little touch."

No course states that philosophy more clearly than dessert. Comerford and her team have prepared a Cappuccino Fudge Cake with Madagascar Vanilla scented papaya and salted caramel sauce. Coffee and chocolate being American favorites with ties to the African continent, then flavored with a native Vanilla spice.

The dinner program and full menu:

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.