Cristeta Comerford is the first woman and person of color to serve as White House executive chef.
Who is Cristeta Comerford?
Cristeta Comerford studied food technology in the Philippines before immigrating to the United States at the age of 23. She later became a naturalized citizen and began her culinary career in the United States at hotels near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. She worked as a chef at two hotels in Washington, DC before being hired as an assistant cook at the White House in 1995.
In 2005, First Lady Laura Bush promoted Comerford to Executive Chef of the White House; She was the first woman and the first person of Asian descent to hold this position. Comerford has worked in the White House under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. She is married to chef John Comerford, with whom she has a daughter.
Cristeta Comerford was born on October 27, 1962 in Manila, Philippines. She grew up in Manila’s Sampaloc neighborhood with 10 siblings: six half brothers, one half sister, and three full sisters. She was the second youngest child in her family. Her father, Honesto Pasia, was a school principal and her mother, Erlinda Gomez, was a seamstress.
Comerford said her mother was an excellent cook and raised her daughters to appreciate culinary skills. The family often had access to fresh ingredients from their grandparents’ farm in Comerford.
Education and move to the United States
Comerford studied food technology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She left before completing her studies because she received a visa from the United States, where her brother Juanito Pasia was already working. Comerford immigrated to the United States at age 23 along with several family members who arrived in Chicago.
career as a chef
One of Comerford’s first jobs was supervising the salad bar at a hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which led to her brother nicknamed her “the salad girl.” She worked at another hotel near O’Hare before becoming a chef in the restaurants of two Washington hotels: Le Grande Bistro at the Westin Hotel and The Colonnade at the former ANA Hotel.
Comerford also worked for six months as Chef Tournant (aka Revolving Chef) at Le Ciel in Vienna, Austria. There she learned how to prepare classic French cuisine.
White House work
In 1995, White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib III hired Comerford to serve as a White House assistant cook during Bill Clinton’s administration. After George W. Bush took over the presidency, First Lady Laura Bush let Scheib go and began searching for a new chef. Comerford was one of 450 applicants for the post.
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The hiring process lasted six months, during which Comerford and another chef took over the day-to-day duties of executive chef at the White House. Staying in the running as the pool of applicants was screened, she showcased her talents by serving the menu at a dinner for the visiting Prime Minister of India in July 2005. The following month, Laura Bush named Comerford the new White House executive chef.
Comerford was the first woman, the first person of Asian descent, and the first person of color to become White House Executive Chef. She was also the first female chef to be promoted from the White House kitchen.
After Barack Obama was elected president, Comerford stayed on as executive chef. First Lady Michelle Obama soon planted a garden on the White House lawn, and Comerford began adapting her menu to take advantage of the freshly grown ingredients. “We have beautiful produce that’s basically growing in our garden, calling our name and saying, ‘Hey, I’m ready to be cooked today,'” Comerford once told CNN.
When President Obama attended a state dinner in the Philippines in 2014, he hailed Comerford as one of millions of Filipino Americans standing up for the United States. After Obama’s two terms, Comerford continued as head chef while Donald Trump held the presidency and stayed when Joe Biden became president.
As Executive Chef of the White House, Comerford gained entry into the Chefs’ Club, a group of chefs who work for heads of state such as presidents, kings and prime ministers. The Society holds annual meetings where recipes and culinary knowledge are shared.
What does the White House chef do?
As White House Executive Chef, Comerford oversees five other chefs and additional kitchen staff. Her job requires adaptability, as she prepares everything from lavish state dinners to late-night snacks for presidents. For religious occasions like Hanukkah, the White House kitchen is modified to comply with kashrut laws to ensure kosher food is properly prepared.
How much does the chef make in the White House?
In this job, Comerford’s starting salary was around $100,000 per year. She is not paid overtime.
Comerford relies on her taste and years of experience in the kitchen and does not rely on measurements when cooking. The New Filipino Cuisine: Stories and Recipes from Around the World contains some of Comerford’s recipes.
marriage and family
Comerford’s husband John is a fellow chef. She said her husband’s support helped her succeed in her White House post. The couple have one daughter, Danielle.