The Meal Ambassadors

By Herb Gardener –

Chef Ming Tsai

During the Cold War’s chilliest years America dispatched prominent Jazz musicians including Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington to unaligned countries as tools of cultural diplomacy. Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong captured the contradictory experience of African-Americans representing their nation abroad while suffering segregation at home in the song “The Real Ambassadors.”

In an echo of those jazz pioneers, the U.S. State Department introduced “The Meal Ambassadors” last month.

This “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership” will, according to a State Department press release, “elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts. As part of this endeavor, chefs from across the country will serve as resources to the Department in preparing meals for foreign leaders, and will participate in public diplomacy programs that engage foreign audiences abroad as well as those visiting the United States.”

Chef April Bloomfield

Ming Tsai, April Bloomfield, and Jose Andres have already been anointed State Chefs for preparing a diplomatic meal or participating in a food culture program. The latter served dignitaries Louisiana Gulf shrimp to signal support for a fishery struggling with the consequences of human and natural calamities. Justin Wilson’s ghost may have snapped his suspenders in delight.

What a plum for State Department staffers charged with selecting chefs from our national culinary trust. This crazy concentration of homegrown and imported talent, it seems to me, is a symptom of the public’s rapacious appetite for cooking, eating and talking about both until the coffee goes cold.

Chefs have emerged from behind their aprons to become best-selling authors, impresarios, globetrotting travel guides—and in the case of Alice Waters—school curriculum developers. They have cannily professionalized home kitchens leaving us clamoring for their products, and they supply the wind behind waves of multiple food movements.

Chef Jose Andres

So, I tip my toque to America’s new culinary diplomats. Long may they represent our Mexican/Korean taco trucks, Carolina whole hog smokers, red beans and rice Mondays, Portland vegans perched on redwood stools, and whatever else virtuous and creative beckons us to the pleasures of the table.

In Every Night Italian, Giuliano Hazan cooks authentic Italian dishes calibrated to our contemporary need for speed. His 45-minute or less dishes include what he said is “probably the first recipe of mine that was published” as an entry in his mother Marcella Hazan’s third cookbook. The Every Night version contains the sometimes overlooked green olive, a favorite ingredient of my Sicilian mother, and anchovies, which I learned to love on pizza while living in a college fraternity (it repelled the slice stealers). One can hardly imagine the American Chef Corps without ample representation from Italian-American cuisine. Perhaps Giuliano should be fitted for the program’s navy blue chef jacket with Old Glory patch and gold embroidered signature.


 Chicken with Green Olives (Pollo alle Olive Verde)

Chef Giuliano Hazan

(20 minutes to prepare/60 minutes from start to finish)


Chicken with Green Olives

8 ounces green olives, preferably Sicilian, slivered by cutting the flesh away from the pits

5 anchovy fillets

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled

3 pounds chicken legs, thighs, and wings


Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley


Put half the olives and all the anchovy fillets in a food processor and chop very fine. Choose a lidded sauté pan or skillet large enough to accommodate all the chicken in a single layer. Put olive oil and garlic in the pan and place over medium-high heat. Saute until the garlic turns golden brown, then remove the cloves and discard them. Raise the heat to high, pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel, and place them skin side down in the pan. Brown chicken on all sides, then transfer to a platter and season with salt and pepper.

Pour off most of the fat in the pan, then add the wine and vinegar. Let it bubble away until it is reduced by almost half, while loosening the tasty bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the anchovy and olive mixture and about 2 tablespoons of water. Return the chicken to the pan and turn the heat to medium-low and cover pan with the lid askew. Cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until it is very tender when pricked with a fork, 35 to 40 minutes. If all the liquid in the pan evaporates before the chicken is done, all a little water. When the chicken is done, uncover the pan. If the sauce is too thin and watery, raise the heat and reduce. With the heat on medium-low, add the remaining olives, the lemon juice, and parsley and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and serve hot.



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