While Michelle Obama is the brains behind it all, there is an official White House florist to execute her ideas. That honor has been bestowed upon Laura Dowling.
The White House scrambled to say “yes indeed, Laura Dowling began quietly working at the mansion last week. Apparently, the Parisian trained Alexandria, Virginia florist was the front-runner for the prestigious position, after trying out with two other designers.
I would love to know what the try-out involved and who the other two designers were. Laura has a blog, but she hasn't posted since September. I guess she's been busy.
Laura Dowling White House Floral Designer
Paris will not be the focus of Dowling’s first big gig. Rather, food, flowers and guest list will be India-inspired for a state dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Nov. 24. On a technicality, the event will be called a “state dinner”, even though the largely-symbolic title of president of India belongs to Pratibha Devisingh Patil.
Laura's advice for designing an event:
- Choose an earth-friendly theme — such as a garden-style party, a woodlands fête, or a seaside soiree.
- Celebrate your event outdoors. That’s a challenge out of season but we will adapt.
- Select a color scheme that incorporates earthy shades of green and brown. Punctuate with bright colors of early spring. This is not the strategy in the photos, where monotone pales are gorgeous. We forgive.
- Choose linens made of natural fibers, avoiding plastic or disposable items that crate waste.
- Fine vintage items at the flea market or thrift store for sustainable reuse.
- Make your own centerpieces and decorations using locally grown, sustainable materials, including a wtreath made out of vegetables, an herbal topiary tree, or green bouquets set in natural containers of leaves, moss and twigs.
Hours before guests arrived and in keeping with tradition, Mrs. Obama previewed the glamorous table settings in the State Dining Room. That's often the venue for such dinners, but not this time.
Instead, in an effort to show Singh how much the U.S. values relations with his country, the Obamas decided to serve dinner in a huge white tent on the South Lawn, with views of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial through clear panels.
It wasn't your everyday tent: This one had chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and beige carpet on the floor.
President Barack Obama, in his dinner toast, said the setting conjured images of India, where special events are "often celebrated under the cover of a beautiful tent." Singh, in turn, told the president he was overwhelmed by the Obamas' hospitality and said the president's election last year had been an inspiration to millions of Indians.
Guests were seated 10 apiece at round tables (there were 338 for dinner) draped in green apple-colored cloths and napkins, offset by the sparkle of gold-colored flatware and china, including service and dinner plates from the Eisenhower, Clinton and George W. Bush settings.
Floral arrangements of hydrangeas, roses and sweet peas in plum, purple and fuschia evoked India's state bird. Magnolia branches native to both India and the U.S. adorned the tent's inside walls, along with ivy and nandina foliage.
Mrs. Obama brought in award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York City, to help White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford and her staff prepare the largely vegetarian meal. Singh is a vegetarian.
Samuelsson said being chosen to help whip up dinner was both "overwhelming and humbling."
The culinary offerings included potato and eggplant salad, arugula from the White House garden, red lentil soup and roasted potato dumplings or green curry prawns. Pumpkin pie tart and pear tatin were for dessert; the pears were poached in honey from the White House beehive.
The Obamas want this dinner to make a statement at home and around the globe.
An official at the White House said, "Well, I think this is their first State Dinner, so they are inviting the world into their home by way of the Prime Minister of India and it really is the time to put that outstretch hand of America here at home," Schwartz said.
"The Obamas have been traveling quite a lot this first year, which is very exciting. It's good for America. It's good to be involved. But this is the first time these honors are given here at home. The people's house right behind me," she added.
"Is it customary to honor the guest of honor - in this case the Indian Prime Minister - with the food or in another way?"
"Absolutely. What happens, about two months before now, one of the delegation members have come over from India, they sit down, they talk about the likes and dislikes of the Prime Minister and the spouse and any food allergies. In this case the Prime Minister is a vegetarian."
"And then the White House wants to highlight the best of America," she continued. "So they're bringing Marcus Samuelsson into work with the White House chef, Christina Comberford, who is fabulous in her own right and she still will oversee the entire dinner. But Marcus Samuelsson will definitely add a little zing."
The Obamas chose from the White House's historic china collection to set the tables for their first state dinner.
Service Plates: Castleton China, New Castle, Pa., (Eisenhower administration, 1955)
Service Plates: Lenox, Trenton, N.J. (Clinton administraion, 2000)
Dinner Plates: Lenox, Kinston, N.C. (Geroge W. Bush administration, gift of the White House Acquisition Trust, 2008-2009)
I gleaned all these photos and tidbits from various news web sites, the best being CBS News HERE
Once upon a time when I was about Laura Dowling's age, I had the honor of doing flowers for another First Lady. We were both alot younger then.
You can read about it HERE.
And of course, a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from Alberto, Cholo, and the Visual Vamp.