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Obama Gets Pizza Named in His Honor

Obama Gets Pizza Named in His Honor

The latest food-related news from the campaign trail

While addressing students at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., this weekend, President Obama announced that a local pizzeria called The Sink named a pizza in his honor after he visited the restaurant. The POTUS pie (standing for President of the United States) is topped with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, black olives, and onions. Obama joked that he added the vegetable toppings to keep the first lady happy.

The president’s original visit to The Sink occurred during his last tour of the state, in April, when an overly excited supporter reportedly spilled frozen yogurt on Obama's pants while greeting him. Obama also reportedly signed the ceiling of the restaurant, a local tradition.


White House Chefs Share What It's Like To Cook For The President

The White House kitchen isn’t like any other kitchen in America. As a matter of fact, there are many kitchens inside the historic building. Ever wonder what it’s like to cook in one of those kitchens?

We spoke to three people who have first-hand experience cooking in the White House and asked them what it’s like to prepare meals for the most powerful people in the world and their families.

White House chefs come from military (and restaurant) backgrounds.

Two types of chefs work in the White House: those from the military and those from the restaurant world.

“The military chefs are often Navy/Coast Guard, but there’s also a few from the Army and Air Force,” said Bill Yosses , a restaurant owner and former pastry chef at the White House from 2006-2014.

Yosses was never in the military. He made a name for himself on the New York restaurant scene, and his life changed when he got a call from the White House asking him to bake for George W. Bush and the first family in 2006.

He loved his time there, which lasted through much of Barack Obama’s tenure, and had nothing but good things to say about his former coworkers. They’re very much unsung heroes in America,” he said of the residence’s staff, which includes carpenters and plumbers. “Many of them have been there for decades. They’re devoted public servants.”

Chef Andre Rush is a motivational speaker and Army veteran who gained national attention from a photo of him (and his biceps) grilling on White House grounds. His White House tenure began in 1997 when, through one of his mentors in the military, he had the opportunity to cook for Bill Clinton and he seized it. He’s cooked on and off in White House kitchens until as recently as 2018. “Once I got in, everything was up to me,” he said. “I had to perform and do well. It also didn’t hurt that I already had a top-secret security clearance.”

Chef Marti Mongiello , owner of the U.S. Presidential Culinary Museum and a Navy veteran, cooked at the White House during a three-year tour from 1993-1996, during Clinton’s first term. “I lived on top of the mountain at the Camp David retreat,” he said. “I had a sweet, pleasant gig living there. And I’d come down to the White House for state dinners and other events.”

How everyone in the White House gets fed

It’s tempting to think of the White House as simply a place where the first family lives and eats, but it’s way more than just a residence.

“The Oval Office is in the West Wing, and the kitchen serves lunch to the president, the Cabinet members and their guests,” Yosses said. “It’s a room called the Navy Mess, and it fits about 60 people. It’s different from the residence.”

The residence ― known as the executive mansion ― is where Yosses baked his delicacies, and where an executive chef, a sous chef, a kitchen steward and two pastry team members are responsible for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the first family and guests. He said presidents typically take lunch in the Oval Office during the week.

If folks in the White House get hungry after-hours, it’s strangely not common for them to ask the hardworking chefs to whip up something. “I was there for eight years and that did not occur,” Yosses said. “There were no overnight snacks. In theory, we were working 24/7. There could be a national emergency and the people involved have to get up at 3 a.m. and handle a crisis. The crises happened, but they weren’t hungry.”

Celeb-filled state dinners and heavy security are just part of the job

“It’s like being a hotel chef, a private chef and a restaurant chef all in one,” Yosses said. “You’re cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for a private family. You could be doing a fine dining tasting menu with 5-6 courses, or you might have so many people coming through it’s like being a banquet chef in a hotel.”

One of those events is the state dinner, where visiting foreign leaders join American politicians (and celebrities) to honor the two countries’ diplomatic ties.

“The dinners are a lot of pressure ― we can have 10 people doing one little course,” said Rush. “We’d rather have too many people than not enough. We have a flood of people come in to make sure every avenue is taken care of.”

Mongiello, who is Italian-American, spoke fondly of helping prepare the Italian state dinner during his time at the White House in the late ’90s, cooking for guests that included the president of Italy, Sophia Loren and

Security is always of utmost importance, whether a state dinner is happening or not. Mongiello said his friend, chef Michael Lomonaco, was preparing a dinner at the White House and got to see a fraction of it firsthand.

“He said to me, ‘I’ve never seen people with machine guns, rocket launchers and this kind of hardware.’ I told him, ‘Michael, honestly, this is not everything that’s available. This is just what you’re allowed to see here,’” he said.

The foods Presidents and their families love to eat

Yosses worked as the pastry chef for the Bush and Obama families, both of whom were huge fans of his pies. “The Obamas loved pie of every kind,” he said. “Fruit pie in the summer, banana cream pie, Boston cream pie, that’s what they loved. President Bush has a sweet tooth, and liked so many different things. But he liked the pies, too.”

Yosses used his French training in pastry to make just about every delicious pastry under the sun. “If it had a dessert name, we made it,” he said. “Chocolate bonbons, petit fours, layer cakes, chiffon cakes, ice cream, you name it.”

And because the White House should feel like home to a president, it’s no wonder the staff bends over backward to make sure they’re eating what they want.

“One of the Clintons’ favorite foods was sweet pickled watermelon rind,” Mongiello said. “And it had to be a very specific brand from the store: Old South.”

Just like in any restaurant, the customer is always right. Mongiello managed to track some down. “Let me go out and buy that because it makes them happy!” he said.


Country Date Decoration Post-nominal letters
Italy 8 March 2021 Aisppd Onlus Medal Award At the IX International Day of Awareness and Prevention of Women Diseases
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 3 June 2009 Order of King Abdulaziz (Collar) [2]
Israel 21 March 2013 President's Medal [3]
Republic of the Philippines 28 April 2014 Order of Sikatuna (Grand Collar) [4]
Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree Gave Commencement Address
Illinois 4 June 2005 Knox College Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [5] [6] Yes [7]
Massachusetts 2 June 2006 University of Massachusetts Boston Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [8] Yes [9]
Illinois 16 June 2006 Northwestern University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [10] Yes [11]
Louisiana 13 August 2006 Xavier University of Louisiana Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [12] Yes [13]
District of Columbia 12 May 2007 Howard University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [14]
New Hampshire 19 May 2007 Southern New Hampshire University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [15] Yes [16]
Connecticut 25 May 2008 Wesleyan University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [17] [18] Yes [19]
Indiana 17 May 2009 University of Notre Dame Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [20] [21] Yes [22]
Michigan 1 May 2010 University of Michigan Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [23] Yes [24]
Virginia 9 May 2010 Hampton University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [25] Yes [26]
Ohio 5 May 2013 Ohio State University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [27] Yes [28]
Georgia (U.S. state) 19 May 2013 Morehouse College Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [29] Yes [30]
District of Columbia 7 May 2016 Howard University Doctor of Science (D.Sc) [14] [31] Yes [32]
New Jersey 15 May 2016 Rutgers University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [33] [34] Yes [35]
  • 2008: His concession speech after the New Hampshire primary was set to music by independent artists as the music video "Yes We Can", which was viewed 10 million times on YouTube in its first month [45] and received a Daytime Emmy Award. [46]
  • 9 February 2020: Best Documentary Feature Academy Award for American Factory, made by the Obamas' production company, Higher Ground. [47] Barack Obama was not personally among the winners of the award.
  • 2013: Cape Town. Awarded with Michelle Obama. The Award was accepted on their behalf by acting United States Ambassador Virginia Palmer. [48][49]

There are 13 community schools named after him, including: Barack & Michelle Obama Elementary School, St Paul, Minnesota Barack Obama Charter Elementary School, Compton, California Barack Obama Elementary School, Hempstead, New York Barack Obama Elementary School, Richmond, Virginia President Barack Obama School - Public School 34, Jersey City, New Jersey. Barack Obama School of International Studies (Public 6-12 IB), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Obama Prism


President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama named seventeen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24th.

President Obama said, “I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Yogi Berra (posthumous)

Yogi Berra spent over 40 years as a professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach. Widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history – and an all-time Yankee great – Berra was an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series Champion who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Always quick witted, Berra was famous for his “Yogi-isms,” teaching us all that we can observe a lot just by watching. Berra was also a lifelong ambassador for inclusion in sports. Berra put his professional career on hold to join the Navy during World War II, where he fought with Allied forces on D-Day and eventually earned a Purple Heart.

Bonnie Carroll

Bonnie Carroll is a life-long public servant who has devoted her life to caring for our military and veterans. After her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of their military hero, bringing healing comfort and compassionate care to the living legacies of our nation's service and sacrifice. Carroll is also a retired Major in the Air Force Reserve. She serves on the Defense Health Board, and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.

Shirley Chisholm (posthumous)

Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 by becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1969 she became one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus. Not satisfied, Chisholm went on to make history yet again, becoming the first major-party African-American female candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. She was a champion of minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress. After leaving Congress in 1983, Chisolm taught at Mount Holyoke College and frequently lectured and gave speeches at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Emilio Estefan

Emilio Estefan is a passionate and visionary music producer, entrepreneur, author, and songwriter who has won nineteen Grammy Awards and influenced a generation of artists. As the founding member of the Miami Sound Machine, and later through a decades-long career producing and shaping the work of countless stars, Estefan has helped popularize Latin music around the world. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Emilio Estefan is an inductee to the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan is a singer, songwriter, actor, and entrepreneur who introduced Latin music to a global audience. The Cuban-American lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine has had chart topping hits such as “Conga,” “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and “Anything for You.” Estefan has won seven Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She is an inductee to the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Estefan became one of the first mainstream Hispanic artists to crossover between English and Spanish language music paving the way for countless other Latin artists to follow.

Billy Frank, Jr. (posthumous)

Billy Frank, Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the “Boldt decision,” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective “fish-ins,” which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad. Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left in his wake an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.

Lee Hamilton

Lee Hamilton has been one of the most influential voices on international relations and American national security over the course of his more than 40 year career. From 1965 to 1999, he served Indiana in the United States House of Representatives, where his chairmanships included the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran. Since retiring from Congress, Hamilton has been involved in efforts to address some of our nation’s most high profile homeland security and foreign policy challenges. He served as Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission and Co-Chairman of the Iraq Study Group. He was Co-Chairman of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future, which issued a report in 2006 calling for reform of the nation’s immigration laws and system. And through the founding of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, he has also been a leading advocate for bi-partisanship and effective governance.

Katherine G. Johnson

Katherine G. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. A NASA mathematician, Johnson's computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Johnson exhibited exceptional technical leadership and is known especially for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon. In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields.

Willie Mays

Willie Mays was a professional baseball player, spending most of his 22 seasons as a center fielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants. Mays ended his career with 660 home runs, making him the fifth all-time record-holder. Known as “The Say Hey Kid,” Mays was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 and landed on MLB’s All-Time team. In 1951, Mays became one of the first African-American players in Major League Baseball history and won the Rookie of the Year award. Mays also served his country in the United States Army. In his return to Major League Baseball, Mays won the MVP award, and in the 1954 World Series Mays led the Giants to a surprise victory, while making one of the most spectacular plays in sports history, later known simply as “The Catch.”

Barbara Mikulski

Barbara Mikulski is a lifelong public servant, who has held elected office since 1971. She became the longest serving female Senator in 2011, the longest serving woman in Congress in 2012, and the first female Senator to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2012. Applying what she witnessed in her early career as a social worker and community activist in Baltimore, Maryland to her time in office, Senator Mikulski championed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and helped establish the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health to include women in federally-funded health research protocols. She also helped to make college more affordable by reforming and increasing Pell grants and student loans and wrote the law that prevents seniors from going bankrupt while paying for a spouse’s nursing home care. She championed investments in research and innovation, most notably saving the Hubble Space Telescope. She is dean of the bipartisan Senate women, serving as their mentor.

Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman is a treasured violinist, conductor and sought-after teacher. Among his many achievements are four Emmy Awards, 16 Grammy Awards, and the 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2000 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18. In addition to performing internationally and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Perlman has been the soloist for a number of film scores such as Schindler's List, which subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Alongside his wife Toby, Mr. Perlman teaches talented young musicians through the Perlman Music Program. Through his advocacy and his example, he has been an important voice on behalf of persons with disabilities.

William Ruckelshaus

William D. Ruckelshaus is a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly to protect public health and combat global challenges like climate change. As the first and fifth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, he not only shaped the guiding principles of the agency, but also worked diligently to bring the public into the decision making process. Among the EPA’s key early achievements under his leadership was a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT and an agreement with the automobile industry to require catalytic converters, which significantly reduced automobile pollution. He also demonstrated his commitment to public service and integrity as Deputy Attorney General. During the Watergate crisis, Ruckelshaus and Attorney General Elliot Richardson chose to resign rather than fire the Watergate special prosecutor. Their principled stance was a pivotal moment for the Justice Department and galvanized public opinion for upholding the rule of law. He continues to advance his legacy of collaborative problem solving in his current role at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim is one of the country’s most influential theater composers and lyricists. His work has helped define American theater with shows such as Company, West Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods. Sondheim has received eight Grammy Awards, eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Sondheim also founded Young Playwrights, Inc., to develop and promote the work of American playwrights aged 18 and younger.

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is an American film director, producer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. Spielberg's films include blockbusters such as Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and the Indiana Jones series, as well as socially conscious works Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, and his newest film Bridge of Spies. A three-time Academy Award winner, Spielberg is widely considered one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. His films have grossed over 8.5 billion dollars worldwide. Spielberg is the co-founder of DreamWorks Studios as well as the founder of the USC Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to overcoming intolerance and bigotry through the use of visual history testimony.

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand is one of our Nation’s most gifted talents. Her body of work includes extraordinary singing, acting, directing, producing, songwriting, and she is one of the few performers to receive an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony. Her performance in 1968’s Funny Girl endeared her to Americans for generations, and she won her first Academy Award for her role in that film. In 1984, she became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director, which she won for the motion picture Yentl. Streisand is also a recipient of four Peabody Awards, in addition to the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors. In 2009, she endowed the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, which works to correct gender inequality in the research of a disease which each year kills more women than men.

James Taylor

As a recording and touring artist, James Taylor has touched people with his warm baritone voice and distinctive style of guitar-playing for more than 40 years, while setting a precedent to which countless young musicians have aspired. Over the course of his celebrated songwriting and performing career, Taylor has sold more than 100 million albums, earning gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards for classics ranging from Sweet Baby James in 1970 to October Road in 2002. In 2015 Taylor released Before This World, his first new studio album in thirteen years, which earned him his first ever #1 album. He has won multiple Grammy awards and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame.


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Activists protest renaming Chicago school after Barack Obama, calling former president 'another oppressor'

Former President Barack Obama and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, have been floated as the possible new namesakes of a school in their native Chicago.

But not everyone is on board with the idea, and several activists even staged a protest where they claimed the former president is just "another oppressor."

What are the details?

The Waukegan Board of Education is considering renaming a few of their schools due to their current namesakes' ties to slavery, WLS-TV reported.

One committee floated the idea of renaming Thomas Jefferson Middle School — currently named after the former president and Founding Father of America who owned slaves — after the Obamas. According to Fox News, that led to a protest outside the school board meeting on Tuesday.

"From the time Barack Obama became President until 2017 when he left, he today is still the highest-ranking president with deportations in our nation," demonstrator Julie Contreras declared. "We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn't stop the deportations, the way he promised."

She added, "If you're removing the name of Thomas Jefferson, one oppressor, the name of Obama is another oppressor, and our families do not want to see that name."

Protester Mauricio Sanchez, whose father was deported under the Obama administration in 2015, said, "It was something very sad. We couldn't even say goodbye to our dad. We just hoped for him to be able to get out."

School board member Edgar Castellanos, who was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, said flatly of the Obama renaming proposal, "I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community."

According to WBBM-FM, the activists called Obama the "deporter-in-chief," who hurt their community directly. Three million people were deported during Obama's eight years in office, Fox News said.

"That's millions of families that were affected and separated, many of whom reside right here in Waukegan," Oscar Arias told the outlet. "The fear that many of [my] friends faced of never seeing their parents again after coming home from school still resonates with me."


All the Obama 20-Somethings

“This party,” Herbie Ziskend announced, “is in honor of John Quincy Adams.” The dirty-blond, blue-eyed 24-year-old, who once handled luggage for Barack Obama’s campaign and now works in the vice president’s office as a staff assistant, stood in the living room of a red-brick row house in Washington and flung his arms in the air as if to pay tribute to America’s sixth president. Then he paused, deflated: “But the police are here.”

Blue lights flashed through a window as Ziskend and a housemate, Jake Levine, went onto the porch to talk with the cops and promise to quiet things down. Levine, who is now 26, is a policy analyst in the energy-and-climate-change office of the White House. He and Ziskend, along with their other two housemates — Eric Lesser, 25, and Josh Lipsky, 24, who were then both White House staff assistants — were giving a party last July in their group house in Logan Circle, a neighborhood just east of Dupont Circle. People shifted nervously as they checked their BlackBerrys and cellphones and talked about heading out. Ziskend reappeared. “Everybody, it’s O.K.,” he said, grinning. “Party is on.”

“Herbie, Herbie, Herbie,” came the chant. As a joke, someone called out “Eric Lesser,” and the cheer shifted: “Er-ic Les-ser! Er-ic Les-ser!” The revelers, a cross section of young, political Washington, were shouting for David Axelrod’s moon-faced, sweet-tempered special assistant, who also worked on the campaign as a baggage boy. Axelrod is Obama’s senior adviser and alter-ego, and Lesser is usually running his life, deciding how much brown sugar he can have in his oatmeal to keep his waistline in check or making sure he is on time for meetings with the president. He plays Felix to Axelrod’s messy, disorganized Oscar and is something of a sprightly West Wing mascot: neurotic and prepared but earnest and funny in a kid-brother way. In a muggy room to the right of the front door, Lesser danced to the Jay-Z remix of “Beware of the Boys,” by Panjabi MC, bounding up and down as a circle formed around him. Sweaty and beaming, he bounced with the energy that comes from being still fresh from college — not too many years after he was elected high-school class president with a “Lesser of Two Evils” campaign slogan.

Downstairs in the kitchen, a collection of young West Wing aides, former members of the advance staff on the campaign, newly minted press officers, White House softball regulars and the occasional journalist crowded in front of half a dozen bottles of cheap liquor, trying to get a drink. Obama’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, a sloe-eyed 28-year-old, was politely letting a stream of people cut in front of him to refill their beer, only to step up to find a dwindling trickle of foam. The keg was kicked.

Back by the front door, Ziskend’s eyes widened. “Look who just walked in!” he said. “The counsel.” It was the principal deputy White House counsel, Daniel Meltzer, who is 58, in a pale green T-shirt and slacks. “Looks like you’re O.K. here,” he said to Lesser, surveying the sweaty scene.

“You have to do a keg stand,” Lesser said.

Alejandra Campoverdi, the 30-year-old special assistant to the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, had just come with Meltzer from a different party, where Gregory Craig, then the 64-year-old White House counsel, was another unlikely “adult” guest. At the earlier get-together, Meltzer and Norman Eisen, the 49-year-old White House ethics adviser, offered a ride home to some of the young staff members, who instead urged them to come along to the next house. So Meltzer had given Campoverdi and a few other West Wing staff members a ride over to this party in his minivan. “Dan Meltzer’s minivan,” she laughed, curled up on the stairs.

President Obama’s young staff and their senior counterparts mix seamlessly and often sweetly. During the primaries, Axelrod once dropped by a party at the Pad — a group house in Chicago where seven campaign staff members lived, worked and played the video game Rock Band. The rumpled, over-50 “Axe,” as nearly everyone calls him, impressed the crowd by playing a game of beer pong. Now in Washington, he still makes the rare appearance at parties for junior staff members. When friends of the 31-year-old deputy communications director, Jen Psaki, gave her an afternoon engagement party at the Cork wine bar near Logan Circle, Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Axelrod came by, arriving with Lesser.

When Barack Obama’s presidential campaign began on a clear and frigid day in Springfield, Ill., in 2007, the young men and women who would shovel snow in Iowa, crash on couches in Pittsburgh and pass up grad school to join it could not quite grasp that two years later their journey would end at the Oval Office. They also could not imagine all of the unseen difficulties that would await them — everything from a cratering economy and an attempt at a Christmas Day terrorist attack to plummeting poll numbers as their president fell to earth. Showing up to work each day at the most prestigious address in America can feel a bit like finals week in college. They are always on call, always working hard. To these mostly 20-something staff members, Obama is a strict father, one with high expectations, whom they don’t want to disappoint. Michelle Obama is more of a big sister, tapping her toes about when that boyfriend is ever going to propose or playing Cupid by suggesting a match. She gives young, single White House staff members the kind of dating tips she offered in Glamour magazine’s December issue, warning young women: “Cute’s good. But cute only lasts for so long.”

“What do you say to the first lady?” one male staff member, dubious of the first lady’s efforts to set him up, moaned to me during dinner at the J&G Steakhouse in the W Hotel last summer. “ ‘I didn’t like her? She wore a push-up bra?’ ”

As the months have gone by, the young staff members in Obama’s White House have grown more comfortable and confident, reshaping the city around them in their image — idealistic, earnest, geeky, understated, wise-cracking. They are walking and talking in the halls of the federal government, helping to shape the country in real ways, just as harried young aides did on “The West Wing” TV show they watched growing up. They may yet grow arrogant, but for now they have settled into the more quotidian realities of day-to-day governing. They are also growing wary and fatigued. They have learned that their president is not invincible, and they are less cocky in their once unshakable certainty that their guy always does just the right things in just the right ways. They are learning that Washington often changes you more than you change it. They have also become more circumspect, as they have learned how hard it is to stay in the public’s good graces and how elusive bipartisan tranquility can be.

“I KNOW THERE ARE people planning parties who just sit back and scheme about how they can get a Jon Favreau,” Al Hunt, the executive editor for Bloomberg News in Washington, told me not long after Obama took office. The young Obama crowd is polite and gracious, but they are uninterested in mingling with the old guard. They’ve taken their social network from the campaign trail and transplanted it to Washington. The young stars would rather spend a night hanging out together on the roof of the W Hotel or playing video games at someone’s apartment than hobnob with traditional Washington. “Who’s Sally Quinn?” Ziskend asked me, half earnest, half confused, on a Sunday afternoon in February when I mentioned the longtime Washington Post writer and Georgetown dinner-party hostess.

“I feel weird about D.C.,” Favreau, a native of North Reading, Mass., said a year ago while sitting in a hotel bar across Lafayette Square from the White House. “If I left D.C. I don’t think I’d say I miss this or that about D.C. I’d miss the people that I have here.” The young Obama staff members brought with them the almost college-style friendships that came from celebrating New Year’s in Sioux City together and riding Chicago’s chilly L train an hour into headquarters each morning. They share a tendency to go everywhere in cliques that have been dubbed “frat packs” by a Washington gossip columnist. “There is a group of us who went through this campaign, this very long and difficult campaign, in Chicago, away from Washington, and we forged ties there and worked as such a great team,” Favreau said.

After one of the blizzards this winter that left Washington white and glistening, Lesser and Ziskend were sitting by a sunny window in Café Dupont, paging through the paper and reflecting on their first year in the city. (Disclosure: Lesser is dating one of my housemates. They met while I was reporting this story and began seeing each other shortly thereafter.) Their tight campaign friendships, the two agreed, helped them to do their jobs. “We’re all part of a team, and it doesn’t serve the team well to have one person taking credit for something,” Lesser said. “We’re friends with our co-workers, so why would you want to take credit for something and not share it with your friends.”

Ziskend, wearing jeans and winter boots, was nodding, but then he leaned forward in his seat and gestured to himself and Lesser with a self-­deprecating laugh. “Also, for us, we’re 24,” he said. “There’s obviously nothing we’re taking credit for.”

LESSER USUALLY DRAGS himself out of bed at 5:45 a.m. He scans the newspapers online — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post. He scrolls through that morning’s press clippings and deals with the e-mail messages that are already glowing on his BlackBerry screen. Then he showers, puts on a suit and is out the door no later than 6:50 to meet Axelrod at his downtown apartment. The nearly inseparable pair ride to work together, and then the hyperorganized Lesser (Axelrod jokingly says he has “O.C.D.”) spends the rest of his day nurturing and nagging his boss like an anxious mother. “Rahm calls it the ‘7:45 a.m. tea,’ ” Lesser said, referring to when he interrupts the senior staff meeting to deliver Axelrod his steaming cup of Earl Grey.

Lesser, coming down with a cold, was sitting in Cork, the wine bar, a few months ago, nursing a tumbler of juice (a “virgin orange juice,” he told the bartender, earnestly) and talking about an average day in the White House. The rest of the morning, he says, rushes by in a blur — an 8:30 a.m. department-­head meeting in the Roosevelt Room, a 10:30 a.m. economic briefing with the president, a senior advisers’ meeting, a working lunch for his boss, all while Lesser tweaks the schedule, fields calls from reporters and fits in urgent meetings with members of Congress and top advisers.

At 2 p.m. or so, all of the speechwriters arrive for a 30-minute meeting with Axelrod. “David’s like a professor, and it’s like office hours,” Lesser joked. The speechwriters line up in the hall outside Axelrod’s office to wait for him and, much to the amusement of other West Wing staff members who pass by, they can look like a gaggle of eager and overgrown schoolchildren. The president once strolled past and said, “Oh, are you guys waiting to see the principal?”

Axelrod often has an 8 p.m. working dinner, and Lesser leaves sometime after him, aiming to be out by 8:30 or 9 p.m. “on a good day.” He savors his 15-minute walk home — down the asphalt driveway, out the northwest gate of the White House and into the night. But he’s perpetually on call and checks his BlackBerry one last time before he eases into bed, typically around midnight.

Lesser’s long days are like those faced by many young, ambitious people in Washington and elsewhere — the long hours, the late-night requests, the unforeseen surprises and stresses. The job — serving the White House — is their life, and everything else is squeezed in around that. Working for the administration means synching up with your boss’s schedule, forgoing social niceties like showing up for dates on time and sometimes putting friends and family on the back burner. “The singular focus you have here is to chip away bit by bit at these very big problems,” Favreau told me. “The small amount of time when you’re not doing that, I just try to hang around with the friends I have, and that’s about it.”

The transition to governing has been tough for the group that first signed up with the skinny dude with the big ears and funny name. They were a mix of student-council members who grew up obsessed with politics and college grads who happened to be inspired, and they still speak of finding Obama in almost redemptive terms. Favreau, who ended up burned out and disillusioned after working on the unsuccessful 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign, recalls reading Obama’s books and listening to his speeches for the first time. “The only reason I’m still in politics is because of him,” says Favreau, who adds that he doubts he will write speeches for another politician.

Lesser says he remembers being a student at Harvard, feeling worried “about the direction of our country” and volunteering for Deval Patrick’s 2006 campaign for governor of Massachusetts. He watched Obama speak at a rally for Patrick. “People seemed so excited by him and so excited by what he had to say,” Lesser says. “It was so refreshing.” The Obama campaign, one young West Wing staff member said, was a romantic “crush” full of jitters, firsts and ups and downs. Governing, on the other hand, “is like the way you love your girlfriend” — meaningful, but often more taxing and frustrating.

Losing Edward M. Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to Scott Brown — and with it, the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority — was a blow. “There was a big sense of loss when Massachusetts happened,” Lesser says. “Imagine working on a big project that you’ve immersed your entire life in, and anytime it flashes in front of you and looks like it’s not happening, that’s scary.” Ziskend remembers being “definitely down” and asking his bosses, How are you guys feeling? “They were just like, ‘This comes with the territory, and sometimes in politics things don’t work out,’ ” he says. “It was a good learning experience for me. Don’t get your highs too high and your lows too low.”

Here the lessons of the campaign also helped. David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager, created a culture where everyone from the baggage handlers to the senior strategists felt that their role was crucial to the larger effort, and the White House staff members echo that now. “This is the way I can make my small contribution,” Lesser says. “I’ll be able to look my children in the eye and say, ‘When I was in my 20s, I was a small part of something way bigger than myself.’ ”

The campaign, which included a nearly 50-state slog against Hillary Clinton, also taught them that politics, while inspiring, would not be easy. “I never thought that we would come here and it would be just like — ” Ziskend paused and snapped his fingers: “change.”

After joining an administration led by a fitness buff, Lesser joined a gym. “Vida,” he said, referring to Vida Fitness, a trendy, boutique chain in the city that is right down the street from his house in Logan Circle. Lesser and Ziskend joined together last summer. “At 6 a.m. at Vida, you see like 5 to 10 colleagues,” Ziskend says. But Lesser soon fell off the low-fat wagon. He didn’t always scan menus for healthful options, and as far as the gym, he says, “I’ve kind of stopped going.” He quickly adds, “I need to get back on it.”

“Part of the reason I joined the gym is because all these other people around me go,” Lesser told me. “They have just as demanding jobs as me. I have no excuse.” In Obama’s White House, concerns about health start at the top. George W. Bush was a zealous mountain biker who privately griped about a staff member who failed to exercise and even asked a potential Supreme Court nominee about his workout regimen. President Obama also expresses worry about the fitness level of his aides. When Pete Rouse, a longtime Capitol Hill sage who now is one of Obama’s three senior advisers, put on some weight, Obama intervened, Rouse told me. The president, who brought his personal trainer with him to Washington from Chicago, offered to buy the 64-year-old Rouse some sessions with the trainer. (Rouse bought his own sessions instead and now works out twice a week.) Young aides with little body fat hit the gym before work at 5:30 a.m. “It’s the only 40 minutes in the day when I’m separated from my BlackBerry, cut off from the world,” Ziskend says. “It’s freedom.” It is also an acceptable pass for missing work. One aide, who described Obama as “very health-conscious,” told me the president isn't bothered when someone is out of the office on an exercise break.

Basketball is another encouraged pastime. Obama played pickup basketball on primary days for good luck, and although he has since been criticized for hosting a men-only game of basketball and rarely inviting women to play golf, the hoops ritual has carried down to the younger staff members. Their basketball schedule includes three unofficial games: one on Tuesday night at the Department of Interior another on Sundays that includes both White House and agency staff members and a weekend league team.

On Tuesdays, the secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Senator Jon Tester of Montana used to have an early basketball game. Occasionally, Axelrod would join them. Once or twice, Casey and Tester stayed to play a game or two with the later-arriving junior staff members. Basketball is such an obsession that Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, has been known to jokingly admonish staff members to plan their travel around pickup games.

Then there is Stotus — the softball team of the United States (a word play on Potus, the acronym for president of the United States). Stotus, a team made up of White House staff members, gathered on humid summer evenings last year to take on rivals like the Democratic National Committee and then would sometimes celebrate with snacks and drinks afterward at local restaurants and bars. Nonplayers often came out to cheer, thumbing their BlackBerrys as they watched the game. The sports are all in good fun — a chance to unwind after work and connect with friends — but an undercurrent of personal fitness runs throughout.

“People are commenting on it,” Ziskend teased Lesser at Café Dupont, referring to his housemate’s new and improved physique.

“Really?” Lesser asked, laughing. He looked up and added, a touch more seriously: “Really? Like who?”

THE OBAMAS ARE the first White House family in modern memory to treat Washington like an actual city. They moved from Chicago, another urban center with a large African-American population, and they invited inner-city children to help with the new garden and to trick-or-treat and hunt Easter eggs at the White House. According to the CBS Radio News correspondent Mark Knoller, the press corps’ unofficial White House historian, George W. Bush ate dinner or lunch at a restaurant anywhere in the country only 21 times during his eight years in office the Obamas dined out nearly a dozen times in their first year alone. In Washington they have gone to places like the French restaurant Citronelle in Georgetown on a date night and to the foodie mecca Blue Duck Tavern for their wedding anniversary. Obama has made a point of stopping by places with Washington street cred — Five Guys for a cheeseburger and fries and, as president-elect, Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution known for serving black Washington and, among 20-somethings, for providing late-night hangover cures in the form of half-smokes (a local sausage similar to a hot dog) and chili cheese fries.

The young White House staff members have formed an unofficial enclave in an area north of the White House, where many live within a 15-minute walk from one another, settling in group houses and apartments in Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, U Street and Columbia Heights. The tiny but distinct neighborhoods bleed into one another, with nightlife emanating out from the U Street corridor. The area, part of which was ravaged during the 1968 riots, is gentrifying but still has a gritty feel. Some of the staff members call it “campus.” Older journalists trying to impress their young sources sometimes suggest hip neighborhood places like Cork, the Gibson speak-easy and Marvin, a sleek bistro and bar that has a mural of the iconic Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster of Obama’s face painted in blue and red on its outside brick wall. Rahm Emanuel was spotted at Marvin one Saturday night, wearing jeans and alternating between two cellphones, drinking a Belgian beer.

It is hard to pinpoint which came first — the young Obama crew or the rapidly growing roster of news outlets that now clamor to cover them. The stable of writers for Click, the gossip section of the Web site Politico, prowl parties with digital cameras and camcorders, ready to ask, for example, Jen Psaki, the deputy communications director, what’s in her purse, or to write up a sighting of Reggie Love, the president’s 6-foot-5 personal aide, at the opening of the Kennedy Center’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” starring Cate Blanchett. In an interview on the campaign trail, Jon Favreau told me that sometimes when he would tell women that he was Obama’s speechwriter, they wouldn’t believe him. “To which I reply,” he says, “ ‘if I really wanted to hit on you, don’t you think I’d come up with something more outlandish?’ ” But now being Obama’s anything is glamorous. “There have been a ton of A-list celebrities coming here, unlike under the Bush administration — they’re getting behind a cause, because it’s cooler now to be political,” Kiki Ryan, a nightlife reporter for Click, says. “When they come here, they sometimes get a White House tour, and they Twitter about it.” MTV’s “Real World: Washington, D.C.” began in December Bravo will set its next “Real Housewives” and “Top Chef” in D.C. and Arianna Huffington is reworking “Three’s Company” into a show for ABC about three freshman members of Congress who live together.

For decades, young Washington staff members had to worry about steering clear of the gossip pages and not embarrassing their high-profile bosses. Edward McNally, a lawyer who worked as a 21-year-old press intern in Ronald Reagan’s White House and as a speechwriter in Bush senior’s West Wing, said he and his young colleagues always feared “the personality column in The Washington Post.” McNally told me, “When we slipped, when we misstepped in public, we were scared to death that it would enter the media and that it would mean not only the end of our job but the end of our life.”

But the cacophonous world of blogs and 24-hour news coverage has added a layer of difficulty for the newest White House staff members. Gordon Johndroe, who joined George W. Bush’s White House as a 26-year-old assistant press secretary, says: “In ’01 when we got here, no one had BlackBerrys, no one texted, no Twitter, and there were a lot less digital cameras. Now, before you know it, you’re texting someone at 3 a.m. — never a good idea — and the next day a picture of you doing God only knows what is up on someone’s Facebook page.”

McNally remembers being part of a group of “kids in their 20s with no money” who co-opted a Chinese restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue during the Reagan years and transformed it into their own makeshift disco. “We brought boom boxes and pushed all the tables out of the way and danced until 2 a.m. on Monday night, and no one wore their own shoes home because no one could find them,” he said. “Today that scene would have camera phones, texting, video. But we couldn’t have felt more safe. You could dance on the tables and not worry.”

Even so, Obama’s young aides offer a contrast to the ones who worked in George W. Bush’s administration only a few years ago. Bush promised to “restore dignity to the White House,” and the mood inside the administration was subdued from the start, with a reinstated dress code that encouraged women to wear pantyhose. As Matt Latimer observed in his account of his years as a Bush speechwriter, “Speech-Less,” there was no hint of Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing” sexiness. “We were more like Rob Lowe’s cousins,” he wrote, “the ones who didn’t go out much.” When they did go out, Johndroe says, they stuck to creaky haunts close to the White House like Old Ebbitt Grill or bars in the historically preppy enclave of Georgetown. “The Daily Grill was the place to go on Thursday nights, in Georgetown, and then people would go to Smith Point,” Johndroe said, referring to the basement bar known for sightings of the Bush twins and its unofficial uniform of popped collars, boat shoes (no socks) and salmon-colored khakis for the men, pearls and Lilly Pulitzer for the women. The president’s daughters were perhaps the city’s most visible revelers, and their late-night escapades around town became tabloid fodder. (Johndroe, for the record, says he now spends more time on the U Street corridor.)

The young staff members in the Obama White House have not only helped create a new social scene but also nonchalantly reign over it. Washington, always known as “Hollywood for Ugly People,” is now Hollywood, period. Jon Favreau landed on People magazine’s most-beautiful-people list and Time magazine’s Top 100 most-influential-people list in the same week. Other staff members found themselves ranked in GQ and Maxim, and in fashion spreads in Vanity Fair and Elle. Sam Kass, a 30-year-old White House assistant chef with movie-star looks, was also named one of People magazine’s 100 most-beautiful people in 2009. He sometimes is teased by his co-workers with the nickname “100.” The actress Rashida Jones came to Washington for the White House Correspondents Dinner and left romantically linked to Favreau. Kal Penn, who is 33, traded his Hollywood career in the “Harold and Kumar” movies and in Fox’s “House” for a comparatively low-paying job as associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Still, Rahm Emanuel told me dryly, “It’s not like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner go clubbing with these guys.”

The staff members are quick to play down their lives as characters on an inside-the-Beltway reality-TV show. “Do you really think Rahm Emanuel cares if his assistant ends up on Click?” one staff member asked. “He has so much more to worry about. And we work for the most visible guy in the world, so who cares about us?”

“You have to remember, inside the building nobody cares,” Lesser said, and Ziskend finished his sentence: “And that’s where you spend most of your time — inside the building or living with them.”

Darienne Page, the receptionist in the West Wing, is an Iraq-war veteran whom the president jokingly calls “Rotus,” for receptionist of the United States. Page, who is 28, has greeted everyone from Tony Blair to Tiger Woods, but she tells people she works at a drugstore in order to deflect attention from her job title.

“In D.C. when you go out, everyone asks you, ‘What do you do?’ ” Page says. “My answer? ‘I work at Walgreens.’ Because no one asks, ‘Oh, what do you do at Walgreens?’ And if you want to be my friend, it’s not going to matter that I work at Walgreens. Just like it’s not going to matter that I work at the White House.”

ALEJANDRA CAMPOVERDI glided around the rooftop lounge of the W Hotel. Wearing a slouchy backless black dress and fingering her champagne flute, she slipped among the crowd who had gathered on a Saturday night in September to celebrate her 30th birthday. Her boss, Mona Sutphen, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, was there. So were Jon Favreau and some of his colleagues from the White House speechwriting and press offices. They mixed with Campoverdi’s friends from California and some of her former classmates from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The assistants for Norman Eisen, the White House ethics adviser Jim Messina, a deputy chief of staff and Larry Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, took a group picture with Campoverdi when the lights came on. And over by the bar? “There’s Secret Service and World Bank,” Campo­verdi said, pausing to consider. “You have a little bit of everything.”

Campoverdi had just started her job in the West Wing after the inauguration when Gawker, the gossip blog, posted old pictures of her posing in Maxim and offered an equally tantalizing piece of gossip: The “Maxim babe” was dating the “hottie” speechwriter Jon Favreau. Gawker and other blogs turned the benign tidbit into a story and began speculating on her personal life. (She and Favreau remain friends, though the two are no longer dating.) Campoverdi had modeled to pay for college — print campaigns for Paul Mitchell and Kasil Jeans, a commercial for Pepsi, a 2004 shoot for Maxim — and after the Gawker posts went viral, the men’s magazine included her on its “Hot 100” list for 2009, along with Michelle Obama.

In person, with her glossy brown hair, Campoverdi looks like a cuter, less sultry version of the woman in the Maxim spread. Like most young Obama staff members, she’s wary of the spotlight, more likely to enthuse on the causes she’s passionate about (health care, immigration reform) than to talk about her “boring” social life. Even now, with the slightly more relaxed mood in Washington compared to the grind of the campaign trail, young staff members are nervous about upholding the Obama creed of modesty and discretion. One aide, by way of explaining to me his discomfort at seeing his name in print, referred to the belief that government assistants should have a fierce “passion for anonymity.”

Junior staff members carefully guard their images, as part of protecting “the Obama brand,” as Desirée Rogers, now the former social secretary, impoliticly said in an interview last year with The Wall Street Journal. Kiki Ryan, the Politico nightlife reporter, says: “I was at an event with a White House staffer who is very well known. I took a picture of him, and he asked me after would I please not print it, because he didn’t want to be associated with parties.” Another staff member asked a GQ writer to cut a social detail from a story, e-mailing that he was worried he would come off as “a frat boy.”

Obama’s personal assistant, Reggie Love, can be guarded, a friend of his told me one August night in Love’s kitchen, “because he can’t trust people at face value,” before Love shot him a silencing look. Love, paraphrasing Jay-Z, told me that he is “just trying to fade to black.” He added, “Everything you do represents not only yourself but the office of the president,” echoing a familiar concern among young staff members.

This is the uneasy territory of the young Obama aides — they inhabit a world where they are minicelebrities, enjoying the perks of recognition while simultaneously seeming to shun the spotlight. They say they don’t want the attention, that they’re here to do a job, and it’s hard not to believe them. No matter how low-key they try to be, they are bound to excite envy. But envy is not an emotion that gets the Obama seal of approval. The young aides are quick to say how much they like their jobs and how well they all get along, but jealousy does pop up. There is real tension between those who joined the campaign on Day 1 and the perceived interlopers who came later, especially among the people who felt that they worked hard on the trail and weren’t rewarded with top posts. Jobs in the West Wing, with their close proximity to the Oval Office and “the action,” are considered the best. “They don’t make TV shows about the Department of Energy,” a young aide said.

People gripe about staff assistants who, they feel, have received un­deserved press coverage, the ones who didn’t start out in Iowa but still landed a plum job, like the person in the next cubicle who has the same portfolio but makes more money. They are careful, however, not to complain too loudly. They have already learned lessons the hard way. When a Washington Post reporter first e-mailed Favreau about a Facebook picture of him groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton, he couldn’t believe it he never even put the picture up online (a friend from home had naïvely posted it). But the story became a silly blog sensation during the 2008 campaign, and Favreau had to apologize to Clinton. The incident was a psychological turning point for Obama’s staff. Several of them started defriending reporters from their Facebook accounts and internalized the lesson that everyone in Washington eventually learns: nothing is private everything is on the record.

Obama doesn’t yell, his aides say. He’s calm even when he’s angry. But his stern glance is far worse than any tirade. To many of his acolytes, the president is a role model. “This is a person who beat the odds to be a United States senator and who has offered you a job,” Reggie Love says. “This was a moment in time where things will only be this way for a little bit, and they were, and I was proud to take the opportunity.”

More than anything, they repeat, over and over, they don’t want to embarrass the president.

ERIC LESSER LOOKED out over the containers of Thai carryout, the bottles of wine and the Shabbat candles. “Should we do Shalom Aleichem?” he asked, and the whole table began singing a warbled but hearty version of the song that welcomes Shabbat. In Lesser’s group house of Obama staff assistants, Friday-night Shabbat dinners have become something of a ritual, a chance to relax and spend a few hours with friends, reflecting on the week. Sometimes it’s just the four housemates, sometimes it’s a large group from the campaign trail or the White House, sometimes it’s friends from college and people who happen to be in town.

Once it was even their bosses — “the Bosses Dinner,” they still call it. David Axelrod, Lesser’s boss, was out of town, but others came: Jake Levine’s boss, Carol Browner, the White House coordinator of energy-and-climate policy her husband and her sister and Ziskend’s boss, Jared Bernstein, the vice president’s chief economist, along with his wife and their two young kids. Linda Douglass, then the director of communications for the White House office of health reform, was also there.

Around the table on a late September night, the weekend of Yom Kippur, were the four housemates along with Samantha Tubman, a 30-year-old associate director to the social secretary who helps plan nearly every White House event, and Sam Wilson, 27, the deputy director of broadcast media for the White House office of communications. On the campaign trail, Tubman was a press wrangler, one of the most difficult and least glamorous jobs. She had to make sure the press corps was fed and on time, all while dealing with lost luggage and hotel mishaps. Tubman, who is petite and has a quick, engaging smile, was also an older-sister figure to a lot of the young staff members. “Do you remember when we met at a coffee shop in Keene, N.H., when I was still a college student?” Ziskend asked, turning to Tubman.

At the end of every Friday dinner, the tradition is that everyone goes around the table and says something from the past week for which they’re grateful. Over Whole Foods gingerbread and brownies, Lesser looked at his watch and announced, “O.K., we’ve got to do this and then get out of here.” They all had other friends they were trying to see that night.

Tubman started. She talked about her past week in Pittsburgh at the G-20. It was crazy, chaotic and sleepless — a bit like life on the trail, she said, and she was appreciative that she got to know some new colleagues in an intimate, campaignlike way. Lesser talked about going home for Rosh Hashanah and how it was nice to be reminded that “there are people there who I care about and who care about me and who don’t care about the stimulus package in Washington.”

Finally, they all finished saying what they were grateful for, and the group filed out of the house into the misty night. Tubman was going home, but the five men hailed a cab to Columbia Heights, scrambling over one another to squeeze into the back seat, shouting and pointing and laughing. “They’re such boys,” Tubman said, turning to walk to her Logan Circle apartment just around the corner. “I love them.”

Earlier at dinner, Lesser mentioned one of his favorite quotes: “The best quote is from General Patton,” he said, referring to the movie about the World War II commander George S. Patton. “ ‘All glory is fleeting.’

“It’s the only thing that’s true,” he said. “Glory is always fleeting. ”

LESSER WAS WORKING at the White House on a Sunday evening in ratty jeans and a black polo shirt — his good luck outfit from Obama’s presidential campaign — when he received the e-mail message. When she received hers, Campoverdi was lounging on her couch in a faded Kennedy School T-shirt and gray pajama shorts, monitoring the health care vote on C-Span and chatting on the phone with her mother, a cancer survivor who recently lost her health coverage when she was laid off as a kindergarten teacher at an inner-city school in Los Angeles. Campo­verdi threw on a black dress and hailed the first cab she saw to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In a nearby neighborhood, Favreau saw the message flash across his BlackBerry, so he hopped in his car and drove down 16th Street toward the White House.

The e-mail message, from the president’s personal secretary, summoned a group of about 120 people to the Truman Balcony at the White House residence to celebrate the passage of the health care reform bill with a Champagne toast. The group included all of the top administration officials behind health care reform — Axelrod, Joe Biden, Nancy-Ann DeParle, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, Phil Schiliro, Kathleen Sebelius. But the president wanted a close-knit cadre of young aides to attend as well.

An emotional Axelrod said that the night health care passed was a bigger deal than election night, because it was what the campaign had been about — the opportunity to reshape the country and to help average Americans. Obama wanted his young staff to understand that they were part of this moment. So they found themselves in March overlooking the South Lawn of the White House, gazing at the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial in jeans and T-shirts, suits and ties, raising champagne flutes with their president.

“It was as excited as I’d seen anyone since election night, since inauguration,” Favreau later told me. At one point, he saw Axelrod and Gibbs telling Obama some jokes. “He was laughing so hard,” Favreau said. “I’d never seen the president laugh that hard.” Adam Frankel — the history buff of the speechwriting staff — asked if perhaps he could see the Lincoln Bedroom. “Before I knew it, the president was like, ‘Who’s coming on the Lincoln Bedroom tour?’ ” Favreau recalled. Obama showed off the handwritten Gettysburg Address and said, “I’m just here by myself tonight, so you can come in, check everything out.” (Michelle and their two daughters were in New York for the weekend.)


Beyoncé

Beyoncé helped the Obamas kick off both terms at the White House, starting with a performance at the first of his 2009 inaugural balls.

“Michelle and I attended a total of ten inaugural balls that evening. Michelle was a chocolate-brown vision in her flowing white gown, and at our first stop I took her in my arms and whispered silly things in her ear as we danced to a sublime rendition of ‘At Last’ sung by Beyoncé. At the Commander in Chief’s ball, we split up to dance with two charming and understandably nervous young members of our armed forces. The other eight balls I’d be hard pressed to remember.”

Beyoncé also sang the national anthem at Obama’s second inauguration, in January 2013, and performed at Michelle’s 50th birthday celebration.


Chicken à la King

Shutterstock

While it's unclear who exactly is responsible for Chicken à la King, according to Politico, the most likely story indicates that the meal was originally made by the chef at New York's Brighton Beach Hotel, owned by E. Clark King II.

In the 1900s, the chef first served the concoction—consisting of chicken, peppers, mushrooms, and a bechamel sauce over noodles—to his boss, who asked for seconds. The next day, the item appeared on the hotel's menu for "$1.25 a portion" under the hotelier's name.


Great American restaurants where presidents have dined

The scene: President's Day weekend has us thinking about where presidents like to eat. While President Donald Trump has been known to eat KFC and McDonald's, Great American Bites has visited many notable establishments patronized by past presidents — all the way back to George Washington. These spots can be found in politically historic destinations such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and less obvious spots such as Boulder, Colo., and Biloxi, Miss. These are the great American restaurants where presidents have dined.

City Tavern in Philadelphia: This historic spot is America’s oldest restaurant (though not in continuous operation) and chef Walter Staib, who has run the place for nearly a quarter century, is the Emmy Award-winning host of the PBS series A Taste of History and author of four Colonial-era-themed cookbooks. Back in the 1770s, George Washington ate here often, formulating strategies with other Colonial leaders at the watering hole. Today it revels in its 1770s glory, complete with historically accurate furniture, pewter pitchers and tankards, flickering hurricane lamps as lighting, even staff in Colonial-era garb.

Most importantly, City Tavern serves authentic, historically correct, 18th-century American cuisine, a meal that travels back in time. The restaurant’s bestseller is Martha Washington’s turkey pot pie recipe, and it is delicious. The individual serving, round and tall like a soufflé, is full of big chunks of turkey, red bliss potatoes, mushrooms and baby peas, all in a rich sherry cream sauce with a tender crust. Another signature is West Indies Pepper Pot Soup, a common Colonial-era dish imported from the Caribbean, made with beef, green vegetables and taro root. Staib’s version, fortified with allspice and habanero, is based on the one Washington served his men before the wintry crossing of the Delaware at Valley Forge.

Colonial diners made heavy use of rabbit, duck, lamb, trout, salmon, oysters, chicken, pork and beef, and all are represented, as are sauces made with madeira, cream, butter and mustard. Staib also applies historical accuracy to the drinks, including “shrubs,” cocktails that mix Champagne with fruit vinegars. He found beer recipes from renowned home brewers including Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and commissioned them to be remade by Philadelphia’s acclaimed Yards Brewing Company.

Mabel’s Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport, Maine: Few eateries have been so regularly patronized by a First Family as this spot in the popular summer coastal destination of Kennebunkport, Maine, which the Bush clan has long called home — just about every family member has been here repeatedly, including both presidents. While far from fancy, it’s more of a full-service, sit-down restaurant than most coastal Maine lobster spots, and one of the few in the area open all year. There are lots of lobster (and non-lobster) dishes on the lengthy menu, and the signature is the excellent baked stuffed lobster, a forgotten dish of which a good version is hard to find these days. It’s basically a large lobster with the body cavity cleaned out and then jammed full of large sea scallops and a little seasoned breading. Mabel’s serves several other uncommon upscale lobster presentations, including Lobster Savannah (with scallops, shrimp and Newburg sauce), Newburg and Fra Diavolo. The traditional “shore dinner” combines a cup of the excellent clam chowder, a choice of 1 1/8 or 2-pound lobster, and a heaping bowl of “steamers,” steamed Maine clams.

Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in Biloxi, Miss: One of my all-time favorite Great American Bites venues, Mary Mahoney’s has been a family-owned Biloxi, Miss., landmark for half a century. It occupies the oldest home in Biloxi, built in 1737, yet sits within easy reach of the many large casino resorts that form the city’s tourist center. It is a classic New Orleans restaurant that happens to not be in New Orleans, but is cut from the same elegant cloth as Commanders Palace, Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s. The restaurant was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, and today the wall outside is marked to indicate the astonishing height to which the water rose, 15 feet, filling the first floor. But Mary Mahoney’s was painstakingly repaired and has not lost a step.

You enter through a dark, welcoming and well-used bar, adorned with photos of famous patrons like former presidents George H.W. Bush and Reagan, who once had the restaurant cater a meal on the White House lawn. Seafood, fresh from the Gulf of Mexico (across the street) is the specialty, and appetizers include shrimp or crab meat cocktails, crab cakes, crab claws and fried soft-shell crabs. New Orleans classics such as shrimp or crab meat remoulade, crawfish etouffee and oyster stew are also well represented, along with an award-winning seafood gumbo so locally popular that it is sold to go by the gallon. Many seafood entrees are adorned with crab meat, such as the Flounder Imperial, a whole deboned flounder stuffed with crab — not crab salad, or any kind of bread stuffing, just pure lump crab meat.

The standout signature dish is the St. Patrick, created when a customer saw a waiter serving escargot in traditional Burgundian fashion, and asked them to sub Gulf shrimp for snails. This incredible recipe uses a dimpled escargot dish, each recess filled with a whole shrimp topped with lots of chopped garlic, butter and spinach, then baked. Of course, this being Mary Mahoney’s, the plate is then topped with lump crab meat. Since not everyone eats seafood, the restaurant also offers a wide array of grilled meats, including rib eye and strip steaks, lamb chops, veal and pork chops, and the quality is very high. There is an extensive wine list and the desserts are excellent, especially the pecan pie, Mississippi mud pie, praline parfait and signature bread pudding with rum sauce.

Rao’s in NYC, Las Vegas, L.A.: The tiny original Rao’s in New York City is a power broker enclave and the single hardest restaurant reservation to get in the country, so it helps to be a celebrity with the stature of former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who have dined here. In 2006, the family owners opened a larger, more accessible and whimsically authentic satellite location in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which has been extremely popular for more than a decade, and in 2013, a similar replica opened in Los Angeles.

The Vegas and L.A. outposts do a good job of recreating the look of the original and a great job of recreating the food, which is red sauce Italian-American with a lot of seafood. The most famous dishes are the tender and giant meatballs, served as an appetizer another starter, the cold seafood salad lemon chicken rich, creamy penne all vodka and on-the-bone veal chop Milanese.

Rao’s also makes a full line of jarred sauces and other items sold in supermarkets and gourmet stores, has several cookbooks, and has been showcased on numerous food shows: long-time former chef Carla Pellegrino famously beat chef Bobby Flay and late co-owner Frank Pellegrino, Sr., had a recurring role on the HBO hit series, The Sopranos.

Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C.: Ben’s is a Washington, D.C., institution that has been popular for 60 years and occupies the middle of a block on U Street in a recently trendy neighborhood (along with a less colorful but surprisingly authentic outpost in the presidentially named Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). Ben’s has traditionally been a photo-opp meal stop for politicians, and former president Barack Obama was the most famous regular during his time in office. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy notably ate here with his wife on a D.C. visit.

Ben’s is a diner-like spot with a huge menu, including a broad breakfast selection with staples like hot cakes, French toast and egg sandwiches, along with rarities such as scrapple and salmon cakes. Lunch and dinner focuses on the flattop grill and burgers, dogs and sausages. The main reason to go to Ben’s is the legendary half-smoke, especially when topped with chili. The half-smoke is a slightly spicy sausage unique to Washington, D.C., and generally agreed to be the city’s signature dish (though there are proponents of Navy Bean soup). There are three popular theories as to what it is and why it is so named. Some say it was traditionally smoked less than other smoked sausages, or “half smoked.” The typical recipe calls for a 50-50 split between pork and beef, which some believe explains the half. The oddest theory is that it is spiced halfway to the level of the other sausage product it most resembles, the polish sausage. In any case, it looks like a hot dog, except it's about twice as thick, and has flecks of hot pepper in it, so some bites are spicier than others.

Many pundits believe Ben’s serves the district’s best half-smoke, and the restaurant certainly does a great job cooking it, consistently pulled from the carefully tended flat-top grill when just slightly charred, giving the exterior a perfect snap. The namesake chili is a saucy style, with flecks rather than chunks of meat, the consistency of Cincinnati’s famous version but flavored like Texas’ take. While it is offered solo, I think it is too thin and soupy to be eaten as chili, but it works perfectly as a topping for hot dogs, burgers and especially half-smokes, as well as on the strangely addictive chili cheese fries.

Capriotti’s, nationwide: When it comes to fast food, the nation’s most famous chain is bipartisan — McDonald’s is a favorite of President Trump, and was so popular with former president Bill Clinton that Saturday Night Live did skits about it. Obama was a Five Guys fan. Of all the fast-food chains with presidential ties, our favorite at Great American Bites is this turkey specialist from Delaware. Former vice president (and former Delaware senator) Joe Biden has been a regular for more than 40 years, and when the first location opened in D.C., he went down and picked up lunch for himself and his boss.

The original opened in Wilmington, Del., in 1976, where the brother and sister owners roasted a whole turkey every night. Soon they were roasting and hand carving a dozen turkeys daily, and the rest is history — today Capriotti’s is a national sandwich chain built on home-roasted turkey, a sort of upscale take on the Subway concept. The chain now has a full slate of sandwiches, though turkey is still the reason to visit, as it is fresh, hand shredded, and much better than the unnaturally formed stuff many delis use. Signature turkey subs include the original and bestselling Bobbie, with cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayo. The Cole Turkey has cole slaw, Russian dressing and provolone, and the Cran-Slam Club is another top seller, a triple decker on sliced white or wheat bread, combining turkey with ham, cranberry sauce and lettuce.

Others: Great American Bites has visited too many presidential restaurants to go into detail on each. One notable restaurant is Boston’s Legal Harborside, the big location of the Legal Sea Foods chain. Harborside has a distinct menu, and the same famous clam chowder that has been a traditional dish at every presidential inauguration from Reagan to Obama. Doe’s Eat Place is a legendary steakhouse way off the beaten path in Greenville, Miss., that earned a James Beard Foundation Award for America's Classics and was a favorite of former president Clinton. Highlights include first-class steaks cut in house, uniquely Mississippi-style tamales and money-saving BYOB wine.

Obama put more Great American Bites restaurants on the map than any other president, though he has also been the source of bad luck for some: both Virginia’s Ray’s Hell Burger and New York’s famous Carnegie Deli have closed since he visited. Some other notable Obama spots this column loves include The Sink in Boulder, Colo., a legendary burger and pizza spot famous for its honey-drizzled puffy crust pizza, the unusual but delicious Colorado-style “Ugly Pizza.” The version Obama ordered, with pepperoni, Italian sausage, green pepper, black olive, red onion and mozzarella, is excellent and has since been renamed the POTUS. The whole Obama family loved Maine’s Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream and went to the original in Bar Harbor. When Obama visited New Orleans, he made a great choice to try the famous local sandwich, the po’ boy, at Parkway, one of the oldest and most beloved po’ boy institutions in The Big Easy. While the locals offered to let the commander in chief go ahead, he waited on the long but fast-moving line just like everyone else does. The best sandwiches are the fried shrimp, roast beef, turkey, and surf and turf, while a side of gumbo is awesome and you cannot miss the exceptional French fries with “debris,” gravy with bits of roast beef in it.

See the photos above for the places Great American Bites and America's past presidents have visited, in honor of President's Day.


A History of Pizza

The world’s most popular fast food has ancient roots, but it was a royal seal of approval that set it on the path to global domination.

Pizza is the world’s favourite fast food. We eat it everywhere – at home, in restaurants, on street corners. Some three billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States alone, an average of 46 slices per person. But the story of how the humble pizza came to enjoy such global dominance reveals much about the history of migration, economics and technological change.

People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: “Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!”

But it was in late 18th-century Naples that the pizza as we now know it came into being. Under the Bourbon kings, Naples had become one of the largest cities in Europe – and it was growing fast. Fuelled by overseas trade and a steady influx of peasants from the countryside, its population ballooned from 200,000 in 1700 to 399,000 in 1748. As the urban economy struggled to keep pace, an ever greater number of the city’s inhabitants fell into poverty. The most abject of these were known as lazzaroni, because their ragged appearance resembled that of Lazarus. Numbering around 50,000 they scraped by on the pittance they earned as porters, messengers or casual labourers. Always rushing about in search of work, they needed food that was cheap and easy to eat. Pizzas met this need. Sold not in shops, but by street vendors carrying huge boxes under their arms, they would be cut to meet the customer’s budget or appetite. As Alexandre Dumas noted in Le Corricolo (1843), a two liard slice would make a good breakfast, while two sous would buy a pizza large enough for a whole family. None of them were terribly complicated. Though similar in some respects to Virgil’s flatbreads, they were now defined by inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients with plenty of flavour. The simplest were topped with nothing more than garlic, lard and salt. But others included caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse’s milk), cecenielli (whitebait) or basil. Some even had tomatoes on top. Only recently introduced from the Americas, these were still a curiosity, looked down upon by contemporary gourmets. But it was their unpopularity – and hence their low price – that made them attractive.

For a long time, pizzas were scorned by food writers. Associated with the crushing poverty of the lazzaroni, they were frequently denigrated as ‘disgusting’, especially by foreign visitors. In 1831, Samuel Morse – inventor of the telegraph – described pizza as a ‘species of the most nauseating cake … covered over with slices of pomodoro or tomatoes, and sprinkled with little fish and black pepper and I know not what other ingredients, it altogether looks like a piece of bread that has been taken reeking out of the sewer’.

When the first cookbooks appeared in the late 19th century, they pointedly ignored pizza. Even those dedicated to Neapolitan cuisine disdained to mention it – despite the fact that the gradual improvement in the lazzaroni’s status had prompted the appearance of the first pizza restaurants.

All that changed after Italian unification. While on a visit to Naples in 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita grew tired of the complicated French dishes they were served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hastily summoned to prepare some local specialities for the queen, the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito cooked three sorts of pizza: one with lard, caciocavallo and basil another with cecenielli and a third with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The queen was delighted. Her favourite – the last of the three – was christened pizza margherita in her honour.

This signalled an important shift. Margherita’s seal of approval not only elevated the pizza from being a food fit only for lazzaroni to being something a royal family could enjoy, but also transformed pizza from a local into a truly national dish. It introduced the notion that pizza was a genuinely Italian food – akin to pasta and polenta.

Nevertheless, pizza was slow to move out of Naples. The initial spur was provided by migration. From the 1930s onwards, a growing number of Neapolitans moved northwards in search of work, taking their cuisine with them. This trend was accelerated by war. When Allied soldiers invaded Italy in 1943-4, they were so taken with the pizza they encountered in Campania that they asked for it wherever else they went. But it was tourism – facilitated by the declining cost of travel in the postwar period – that really consolidated pizza’s position as a truly Italian dish. As tourists became increasingly curious about Italian food, restaurants throughout the peninsula started offering more regional specialities – including pizza. The quality was, at first, variable – not every restaurant had a pizza oven. Nevertheless, pizza quickly spread throughout Italy. As it did so, new ingredients were introduced in response to local tastes and the higher prices that customers were now willing to pay.

But it was in America that pizza found its second home. By the end of the 19th century, Italian emigrants had already reached the East Coast and in 1905, the first pizzeria – Lombardi’s – was opened in New York City. Soon, pizza became an American institution. Spreading across the country in step with the growing pace of urbanisation, it was quickly taken up by enterprising restaurateurs (who were often not from an Italian background) and adapted to reflect local tastes, identities and needs. Shortly after the US entered the Second World War, a Texan named Ike Sewell attempted to attract new customers to his newly opened Chicago pizzeria by offering a much ‘heartier’ version of the dish, complete with a deeper, thicker crust and richer, more abundant toppings – usually with cheese at the bottom and a mountain of chunky tomato sauce heaped on top of it. At about the same time, the Rocky Mountain Pie was developed in Colorado. Although not as deep as its Chicago relative, it had a much wider crust, which was meant to be eaten with honey as a desert. In time, these were even joined by a Hawaiian version, topped with ham and pineapple – much to the bewilderment of Neapolitans.

From the 1950s onwards, the rapid pace of economic and technological change in the US transformed the pizza even more radically. Two changes are worthy of note. The first was the ‘domestication’ of pizza. As disposable incomes grew, fridges and freezers became increasingly common and demand for ‘convenience’ foods grew – prompting the development of the frozen pizza. Designed to be taken home and cooked at will, this required changes to be made to the recipe. Instead of being scattered with generous slices of tomato, the base was now smothered with a smooth tomato paste, which served to prevent the dough from drying out during oven cooking and new cheeses had to be developed to withstand freezing. The second change was the ‘commercialisation’ of pizza. With the growing availability of cars and motorcycles, it became possible to deliver freshly cooked food to customers’ doors – and pizza was among the first dishes to be served up. In 1960, Tom and James Monaghan founded ‘Dominik’s’ in Michigan and, after winning a reputation for speedy delivery, took their company – which they renamed ‘Domino’s’ – nationwide. They and their competitors expanded abroad, so that now there is scarcely a city in the world where they cannot be found.

Paradoxically, the effect of these changes was to make pizza both more standardised and more susceptible to variation. While the form – a dough base, topped with thin layers of tomato and cheese – became more firmly entrenched, the need to appeal to customers’ desire for novelty led to ever more elaborate varieties being offered, so that now Pizza Hut in Poland sells a spicy ‘Indian’ version and Domino’s in Japan has developed an ‘Elvis’ pizza, with just about everything on it.

Today’s pizzas are far removed from those of the lazzaroni and many pizza purists – especially in Naples – balk at some of the more outlandish toppings that are now on offer. But pizza is still recognisable as pizza and centuries of social, economic and technological change are baked into every slice.

Alexander Lee is a fellow in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. His latest book, Humanism and Empire: The Imperial Ideal in Fourteenth-Century Italy is published by OUP.