AP U.S.

Plant-based courses of millet, stuffed mushrooms on White House state dinner menu for India

WASHINGTON (AP) — Plant-based courses of millet and stuffed mushrooms are on the menu for some 400 guests invited to Thursday’s fancy White House state dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi is a vegetarian and first lady Jill Biden enlisted California-based chef Nancy Curtis, who specializes in plant-based cooking, to help in the kitchen. Biden previewed the menu and decor for the news media on Wednesday after she returned from an outing with the prime minister.

She described the menu as “stunning.”

For her part, Curtis declared herself “so excited.”

“You must understand the pressure I’m under standing here before you, but it’s a kind of pressure that is also an elation because, when you’re asked by the first lady to come and join her at the White House, it’s an experience that I hope many chefs get to have,” she said.

“This is definitely a pinnacle moment in my career and truly a pleasure to be able to work with the first lady and help her to bring her culinary vision to life,” Curtis added.

Politicians, CEOs, celebrities, White House and administration officials and other guests will dine on a salad of marinated millet, corn and compressed watermelon, stuffed Portobello mushrooms and saffron risotto, and a strawberry shortcake infused with rose and cardamom.

Curtis said the menu “showcases the best of American cuisine seasoned with Indian elements and flavors.” She said India is leading an international year of recognition for millet.

Trolleys will deliver guests to a pavilion built on the south grounds for the affair. It will be decorated in the green and saffron colors of India’s flag, with translucent walls offering views of iconic symbols of American democracy and history, including the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument.

Lotus flowers, native to Asia and featured in Indian design, will be incorporated throughout, along with saffron-hued floral arrangements that differ from table to table. Dinner will be candlelit, reflecting the first lady’s love of candles.

Each table arrangement, she said, is “warm and unique. We hope guests feel as if someone has set that table just for them — because we have.”

After dinner, guests will enjoy music by American violinist Joshua Bell; Penn Masala, a South Asian a cappella group founded by students at the University of Pennsylvania; and the U.S. Marine Band Chamber Orchestra. They will exit the grounds by walking across a lawn illuminated by hundreds of glowing lanterns.

Earlier Wednesday, the first lady and Modi visited the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, for an event highlighting workforce training programs. He flew in from New York where earlier in the day he performed backbends and corpse poses during a yoga session with a multinational crowd on the lawn of the United Nations.

“Our universities are partnering together, leading research, creating apprenticeships and internships that span the ocean,” Biden said at the event. “And as we’ve seen here, students from both countries are learning and growing alongside of each other, discovering the people they want to become and building a better world together.”

Modi spoke about the emphasis India has placed on education, integrating learning and training. “Our goal is to make this decade a ‘tech decade’ or ‘tech-ade,’” the prime minister said, speaking in Hindi.

President Joe Biden, who extended the state visit invitation to Modi, could not join the outing because he was flying back from California after raising money for his reelection campaign. The president returned to Washington in the evening and he and the first lady hosted Modi at the White House for a more intimate dinner before Thursday’s splashier affair.

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As the official gift, the Bidens presented Modi with a handmade, antique American book galley from the early 20th century, the White House said. The president also gave Modi a vintage American camera and a hardcover book of American wildlife photography, while the first lady gave him a signed, first-edition copy of “Collected Poems of Robert Frost.”

Despite deep differences with India over its record on human rights and its approach to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Biden nevertheless extended to Modi the administration’s third invitation for a state visit. With all the pomp and attention being paid to Modi, Biden hopes to firm up his relationship with the leader of a country the U.S. believes will be a pivotal force in Asia for decades to come.

Biden hosted the presidents of France and South Korea on official state visits in December 2022 and April of this year, respectively.

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