Tonight's State Dinner: Beyonce, Ceviche and Please, no Salahis

AP
It would surprise no one if the White House were to position the 101st Airborne Division at entryways to insure that only guests with genuine invitations made it into tonight's State Dinner for President Felipe Calderon of Mexico.

One gets the feeling a few aides would sooner settle for some mild food-poisoning rather than incur another round of the kind of ridicule that accompanied President Obama's first State Dinner last year for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India.

It was on the evening of Nov. 24, 2009 that a handsome couple named Michaele and Tareq Salahi sashayed their way into the dinner without the inconvenience of an invitation. To this day they still believe they were invited. And in an assertion that should win them a Nobel Prize for Chutzpah, the Salahis feel the White House owes them an apology for the treatment they later received.

The Secret Service and the White House staff feel they have procedures in place to guarantee there'll be no unexpected guests. If successful, then all eyes will be focused instead on what the American and Mexican First Ladies will be wearing to tonight's gala, along with the menu and the entertainment.

Photos from the State Dinner
Full Coverage of the State Dinner

AP
For tonight's dinner, White House chef Cristeta Comerford recruited the services of Chicago-based chef, author and restaurateur Rick Bayless.

"Heading into the WH for another full day of creation," he tweeted this morning before heading to the final hours of preparation in the White House kitchen. "Got my fingers crossed there are no hitches."

The owner of Frontera Grill and the host of the PBS series "Mexico - One Plate at a Time," Bayless brings culinary expertise to the preparations. And he's gone out of his way to lavish praise on the other members of the White House kitchen staff.

The veil of secrecy that enveloped the menu for tonight's gala was lifted about four hours before they ring the dinner bell.

Jicama with Oranges, Grapefruit, and Pineapple

Citrus Vinaigrette

Ulises Valdez Chardonnay 2007 "Russian River"

Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah

Sesame-Cilantro Cracker

Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole

Black Bean Tamalon and Grilled Green Beans

Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 "Seleccion Rebecca"

Chocolate-Cajeta Tart

Toasted Homemade Marshmallows

Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Mumm Napa "Carlos Santana Brut" N/V

A fact sheet said the First Lady hopes the menu reflects "the best of American cuisine." It's her intention that tonight's bill of fare reflects a commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food. Further, she hopes to honor "the culinary excellence and flavors that are present in Mexican cuisine."

"Gr8 day of cooking w WH staff," Bayless informed his over 49,000 followers on Twitter this morning, using the abbreviations that lend themselves to conveying complicated thoughts in no more than 140 characters per tweet. "Remarkable their organization, knowledge of protocol," he said of the White House culinary staff.

AP
Bayless said he knows better than to tweet from the White House, although Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and this reporter do it all day long. Go ahead, Chef. There are no state secrets in the White House kitchen. Not since I tweeted the menu.

He's preparing meals for some 200 invited guests who'll be dining in the East Room, slightly more roomy than the State Dining Room on the opposite side of the first floor of the White House residence.

And when the dinner guests are done feasting, they'll walk a short distance to a tent erected on the South Lawn, where actress and recording artist Beyonce headlines the entertainment of the evening. There'll also be performances by singers Rodrigo y Gabriela and the U.S. Marine Band.

Who pays for the costs of the State Dinner? We taxpayers, naturally. The money comes from the "K Fund," a special line of appropriations administered by the Office of the Chief of Protocol at the State Department. Former Chief of Protocol Don Ensenat once told me he never learned why it was called the "K Fund." The cost of a State Dinner is not disclosed. Experts surmise it could run as high as half a million dollars.


Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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