- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

President Bush raised his glass under the glittering chandelier of the White House State Dining Room to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday in a toast to her leadership as well as the friendship and alliance between the two countries.

“You’ve been a fierce fighter of terrorism in your own country,” said Mr. Bush, adding that it was a “high honor” to welcome Mrs. Arroyo to his home in Washington. “You’ve earned America’s respect.”

Seated in the stately but intimate room with Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were 128 guests, including seven members of the Cabinet, Vice President Dick Cheney, his wife Lynne V. Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Emphasizing the bonds between the United States and the Philippines, Mr. Bush reminded those present that the Southeast Asian nation was the first country to call the United States after the devastating attacks of September 11, and strongly supported his call to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“For your leadership and friendship, I thank you,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo, dressed in a purple floor-length gown set off with a lime-colored scarf, was equally enthusiastic in her words for the U.S. president, whom she praised for his “fearless leadership and iron resolve, combined with a bold strategic vision.”

Aides rushed to place a small footstool for the diminutive Philippine president to stand on behind the lectern set up in the dining room. She attended with her husband, Jose Miguel T. Arroyo.

The state dinner, only the third held since Mr. Bush took office, had a quiet tone, with a guest list free of the glitterati that adorned such evenings at the White House during Bill Clinton’s two terms. Instead the list featured elected officials, Cabinet members, civic and business leaders.

Mrs. Bush added glamour to the event, dressed in an Oscar de la Renta column-shaped gown made of gold matelasse in a floral pattern, featuring a V-neck, long sleeves and buttons to the waist.

Adding to the romance of the dress were a three-strand pearl necklace — a gift from her husband — and South Sea pearl earrings mounted on finely worked gold flowers and leaves.

Seated next to Mr. Bush was Angela Perez Baraquio Grey, Miss America 2001 and a woman of Philippine descent, dressed in a strapless, backless black floor-length gown.

The tone for the dinner was set with perfume from graceful bouquets of pink-and-white peonies in crystal vases on each table and above the fireplace, which Mrs. Bush chose specially for the dinner.

Cranberry-colored damask tablecloths draped the 13 elegantly set tables in the State Dining Room, laid on with the ivory-and-gold-rimmed Clinton China, the gold- and mother-of-pearl-handled Vermeil flatware, and the President’s House pattern crystal.

One hundred thirty guests sat down to a light, spring dinner created by a team of chefs mixing the delicate flavors of Philippine fruit and spices with fresh produce and lamb from different regions of the United States.

In honor of Mrs. Arroyo, the menu featured a mix of culinary cultures put together with the help of Cris Comerford, assistant White House chef and a Philippine native.

The Maine dayboat scallops, brandade of smoked trout and Maryland crabs, and vine-ripened tomato gazpacho, she said, were examples of how she tried to reveal a “marriage of the two countries.”

The tomatoes were golden, red, black and green-zebra heirloom varieties, which feature a richer, sweeter flavor than most tomatoes, effused White House chef Walter Scheib.

For the main course, guests ate Bellwether Farm lamb, served with a red wine reduction, achiote polenta cooked with corn milk, fresh fava beans, morels and braised cipollini onions.

The salad was a light concoction of avocado, tomato and a terrine of goat’s cheese from Texas, accompanied by spring greens, young corn shoots, candied pepitas and calamansi dressing.

Ms. Comerford said creating the carefully orchestrated fusion of ingredients, textures and tastes for the leaders of the countries of her birth and her citizenship was “very overwhelming.”

Dessert was a cascade of textures and flavors created under the watchful eye of Roland Mesnier, the White House pastry chef.

The sweet centerpiece was a mango sorbet filled with coconut mousse and layered with toasted coconut macaroons, sitting atop a nougat stand of caramel and sliced almonds topped with a delicate lei of edible handmade sugar flowers that took a team of craftsmen more than a week to make.

For those who wanted more, there was a baked pineapple soaked in brown sugar, butter and rum sauce and covered in a toasted merengue, as well as plates of assorted cookies: coconut bars, lime macaroon, raspberry shortbread and raspberry truffles.

After the dinner, the guests retired to the lavish White House East Room for a 30-minute recital featuring pianist Brian Zeger and vocalist Susan Graham, who has sung at such venues as Milan’s La Scala Opera House and London’s Covent Garden.

The two performed a program of music from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and Randol Bass.


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