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A state dinner orchestrated with military precision

Cris Comerford and her staff are busy preparing for the state dinner, one that has to be orchestrated with military precision
White House executive chef prepares for Japanese state dinner 04:31

After a visit together to the Lincoln Memorial Monday, President Obama formally meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday at the White House. In the evening, it's on to a state dinner, the eighth of the Obama presidency.

Inside the White House kitchen Monday, executive chef Cris Comerford and her staff were already hard at work preparing for the dinner, one that has to be orchestrated with military precision, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Plante.

"We started about two days ago, just doing like veal stocks, different sauces, things that could hold in the refrigerator," Comerford said. "But anything like fresh vegetables and like salad, for example, we do them to the very last minute. So it takes about a good four days."

The big challenge? How to make it special for the guest of honor.

"We try to do American hospitality. American food with whatever nuances of the visiting country would be," Comerford said.

To celebrate the Japanese prime minister, Comerford brought in a special guest: world-renowned Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto. He's known as one of the Food Network's most intimidating Iron Chefs.

To bring Japanese flavor to the dinner, Morimoto said he will be using bamboo shoots from Japan and similar hearts of palm from Hawaii.

"So Japan and Hawaii -- the marriage -- this is the meeting," he said.

Also on the menu at the state dinner: American beef bred from Japanese Wagyu cattle and a wine by a Japanese-American winemaker.

For inspiration, the two culinary heavyweights turned to the White House kitchen garden, pulling lettuces and flowers planted by school children from across the country.

"So we're going to put some fresh herbs and lettuce and put them in the first course salad," Morimoto said.

It will be served for the first time on Mr. Obama's presidential china service, which will officially debut Tuesday night when almost 300 guests will crowd into the White House to see what chefs Comerford and Morimoto have created.

Comerford admitted she gets nervous before state dinners.

"I think nervous is a thing because it's what keeps you in your toes for the most part. And as a chef, for me, it's a great thing to make sure that all of my task lists are checked for the day," Comerford said.

She likened herself to a conductor in an orchestra pit.

"Basically, you have all these multitude of talents around you that will be towards the end that will be coming up with a really great symphony of food and beautiful things," she said. "So for me, my job is to expedite the matter, to make sure we get the right things ... to make sure everything works in the proper places and at the proper times."

Born in the Phillipines, Comerford started in the White House as a sous chef under President Clinton. She rose to executive chef in 2005, becoming both the first female and the first minority to hold the job.

After nearly 20 years cooking in the White House, Comerford is used to the pressure and said a chef for the First Family has to be adaptable.

"Each family has their own preferences but you know, at the end of the day, they're just regular people like us," she said.

Former first lady Laura Bush appointed Comerford to the top job and said she remembers a great mix of recipes, from high-end cuisine to her husbands weeknight favorites.

"She did make things that he would like, like chicken fried steak, but she could also of course do things that were really appropriate for foreign guests, for state dinners, and really wonderful food," Bush said.

Chopsticks are also included in the table settings, but the White House social secretary assured CBS News that they were just optional.

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