Presidential chefs swap recipes for world diplomacy

Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:46pm EDT
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By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (Reuters) - A handful of people in the world know that German Chancellor Angela Merkel loves popping over to Paris because of her penchant for French cuisine, while it's best to avoid serving artichokes to French President Francois Hollande.

They are the top chefs from the kitchens of the world's leaders, masters of the art of sweetening international relations with a sumptuous meal, who gather in Paris this week to swap recipes and tips on dinner-party diplomacy.

If Winston Churchill was right when he said a century ago that "the stomach governs the world", then this club of 27 culinary maestros have an unseen influence on leaders' moods as they seal decisions on everything from the crisis in Syria to the euro zone's debt woes.

"Presidents come and go, but chefs stay," said Gilles Bragard, the French businessman who started the club of chefs to the world's presidents and monarchs in 1977.

"I often say that if politics divides, then the table brings people together," he told a news conference in Paris at their latest annual get-together.

In a wink at the cooks' importance, the club's name - "Le Club des Chefs des Chefs" - plays on the fact the French word for chef and leader is the same. It could translate as "The Club of Chefs of the Chiefs" or "The Club of Chiefs of the Chiefs".

"I think what I cook can really make a difference to how discussions happen," Daryl Schembeck, head chef from the kitchens of the United Nations who recently cooked for a party of 200 world leaders, told Reuters.

"If it's easy to eat and people are enjoying it, it's something they can talk about and that can start another conversation. I think I can impact that," he said.   Continued...

France's President Francois Hollande (L) shakes hands with Chinese chefs Hou Fang (2ndL) and Zhao Hoang Liang (3rd L) during a reception of the "Club des Chefs des Chefs" (Club of Leaders' Chefs) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 24, 2012, following the International meeting in France. REUTERS/Jacques Demarthon/Pool