- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

“Got my fingers crossed there are no hitches.”

And with that tweet, Rick Bayless, a Chicago chef adored by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for his way with Mexican food, dashed to the White House to finish preparations for Wednesday’s state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

The same could be said for the entire White House staff - anxious to pull off a flawless event after Mr. Obama’s first state dinner six months ago was overshadowed by an uninvited husband-and-wife couple who somehow slipped through security.

Mrs. Obama chose a shimmery-blue gown with a one-shoulder silhouette, similar to the one she wore to her husband’s inaugural balls, for the event. It was designed Peter Soronen. It’s the fourth gown by the designer the first lady has worn.

“It’s a clever, memorable, sophisticated choice,” said Avril Graham, executive fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. “It’s one of my favorites that’s she’s worn. It’s all so right, so picture-perfect right.”

About 200 guests have coveted invitations for the four-course dinner in the East Room, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who planned to attend. A larger group will be treated to dessert and after-dinner entertainment inside a big white tent on the South Lawn.

Grammy Award winner Beyonce and the Mexican singing duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela were set to perform.

Mr. Bayless, guest chef for the dinner at the invitation of Mrs. Obama, arrived in Washington two days early to start getting ready.

Dinner was expected to open with a salad of jicama with oranges, grapefruit and pineapple, followed by herb green seviche of Hawaiian opah. The main course of Oregon wagyu beef was planned to be served in a Oaxacan black mole sauce that Mr. Bayless says uses more than 20 ingredients and takes days to come together. Grilled green beans and black bean tamalon were also planned as accompaniments.

Chocolate cajeta tart with toasted homemade marshmallows were on tap for dessert, along with a graham cracker crumble made with honey from the White House beehive and goat cheese ice cream.

Herbs, radishes and lettuces from Mrs. Obama’s garden on the South Lawn were used for the meal.

Actors Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria Parker and George Lopez were among the celebrities expected to attend.

Another 104 guests will join the party for after-dinner entertainment in a tent decked out with tiered seating and a dance floor. Guests walking into the room will get the feel of Monarch butterflies in flight. The White House said that decor was chosen to honor Calderon’s birthplace of Michoacan, Mexico, where the butterfly’s annual migration from Canada ends each spring.

“GR8 cooking w WH staff yesterday,” Mr. Bayless tweeted early Wednesday. “Remarkable their organization, knowledge of protocol.”

That protocol, by the way, includes no tweets from the White House kitchen.

That resulted in a pre-dinner kerfuffle when the Chicago Sun Times reported that Mr. Bayless wouldn’t be allowed to tweet from the kitchen. He twittered a retort: “I NEVER Tweet from WH, which I KNOW is not permitted. Apology?”

Mr. Bayless’ upscale contemporary Mexican restaurant Topolobampo in the Obamas’ Chicago hometown is one of their favorites.

The duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero formed in Mexico City but moved to Dublin after becoming frustrated with the late ‘90s Mexican music scene. They are known for dueling acoustic guitar instrumentals that blend heavy metal sounds with Latin rhythms.

Beyonce serenaded the Obamas at the first ball the couple attended on the night of his inauguration.

The Obamas’ first state dinner, for India’s prime minister in November, was notable for its size - more than 300 guests dining underneath a large tent on the South Lawn - and Mrs. Obama’s shimmery strapless evening gown. But it’s also remembered for the security breach that allowed a Northern Virginia couple who weren’t on the guest list to slip into the White House and shake hands with the president.

The White House reviewed its procedures afterward and decided to position White House staff at security checkpoints along with the Secret Service to help resolve any questions about the guest list for future dinners.

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