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It’s a measure of Kass‘ growing stature that he’s gone from People magazine’s “most beautiful” list in his first year in Washington to Fast Company’s “most creative people in business” list in 2011.

Tom Colicchio, New York restaurateur and co-host of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” says Kass‘ passion for healthy eating and knowledge of the issue make him a natural for his dual role.

“He knows this stuff inside out,” Colicchio said. “It’s not him latching on to some trend. He’s taken the time to learn it and understand it.”

When more than 500 chefs gathered on the White House lawn in 2010 to launch the “Chefs Move to School” program, pairing up chefs to work with individual schools, “that came directly from Sam,” says Colicchio. “This is something he cares deeply about.”

Walter Scheib, White House chef for 11 years in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says it’s a “wonderful thing” that Kass‘ cooking has become secondary to his policy work.

“It’s way overdue that chefs be involved in that component,” says Scheib. While past White House chefs might offer occasional behind-the-scenes advice on nutrition matters, Scheib says, “We were always thought of as, `Go back in the kitchen and be quiet.’”

Kass‘ relationship with the Obamas began when he cooked for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. He was a history major in college, who discovered a love for cooking during a summer job at a Chicago restaurant. He finished his college years abroad, and ended up training in Vienna with an acclaimed Austrian chef.

Back in Chicago (where his schoolteacher father taught Malia Obama in fifth grade) Kass worked at the Mediterranean restaurant Avec before opening a private chef business, Inevitable Table, that promotes “a healthy lifestyle that focuses on the quality and flavor of food to encourage good eating habits.”

These days, Kass mixes plenty of cooking with his advocacy: He’s fixed honey crisp apple salad at the Agriculture Department cafeteria, served Elmo a burrito bulging with peppers, lettuce, rice and beans, and prepared Swiss chard frittatas for children on the White House lawn.

He doesn’t see much of his basement apartment as he juggles the roles of cook, policy wonk and family friend _ even golfing with the president when the family vacations on Martha’s Vineyard and in Hawaii.

He’s also a big advocate for the White House garden, often helping troupes of schoolchildren harvest its bounty and teaching them about healthy eating.

At a child obesity conference last summer in California, Kass told about fretting over nightmare scenarios before hosting a group of schoolchildren for a summer harvest of broccoli, kale and other vegetables _ an event that was to be observed by a sizeable press corps. He worried about the fallout if just one child set a vegetables-are-yucky tone that would derail the event.

“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he confessed. “One kid with some broccoli that they didn’t like would be a national disaster for us. … Everything we’re doing would’ve been set back two years.”

Instead, Kass found himself having to rein in a girl who sneaked off to a back bench to stuff her face with fresh-cut cauliflower.

“It’s the only time in my professional career that I’ve ever had to ask a child to please put the vegetables back on the plate,” he recalled to laughter, before turning serious.

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