John R. Hanny, the author of Secrets from the White House Kitchens, made his way to the White House at age 22 with a unique opportunity to interview the Kennedys and famed chef René Verdon, who worked in their kitchen, for a food journal in Canada. The young man, who worked at his father's restaurant in Buffalo at the time, had a rather unusual interest in knowing what foods heads of state liked and disliked. The interview with Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy lasted for an unexpected 45 minutes, and his talk with Verdon led to a fast friendship. He started training under Verdon and by age 23, Hanny was coming back to the White House whenever needed as a visiting chef and food and wine consultant.
The chef worked closely with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on all things culinary and went on to advise six administrations as a visiting chef. In his first cookbook, Secrets from the White House Kitchens, Hanny uncovers untold stories of the presidents -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt through Barack Obama -- and their relationships with food. It also houses both White House recipes and personal recipes of the presidents and their families. A White House photographer captured the book's food imagery, and the food was all plated on White House china for a fully authentic experience.
When Kitchen Daily sat down with Hanny, the chef let us in on a few of his secrets for cooking White House-quality dishes at home. The acclaimed chef recommends splurging a bit for the very best product to ensure the very best outcome. When possible, he recommends buying food that's fresh (never frozen) and organic. When buying chicken specifically, buy free-range.
The culinary expert also advises home chefs to experiment with cooking and explore food from different cultures and regions. "Be creative and try different foods; be adventurous," Hanny explains, and when in doubt, turn to a good cookbook or even a food show. "The best teachers on television, I think, are Paula Deen, Mario [Batali], and even Bobby Flay," he says.
If there is one culinary mindset Hanny truly stands behind, it is that the old-fashioned techniques work best. He advises to steer clear of mixers when cooking (baking is a different story) and to do all mixing or, as he prefers, "folding," by hand, even when making a sauce. Similarly, when chopping herbs, like parsley, he advises using a knife as opposed to a blender in which "it loses a lot."
Retired from his White House work, Hanny is looking forward with excitement to Monday's inauguration and with particular intrigue as to what will be served for the occasion.
For some of the most unusual presidential appetites and presidential stories from Hanny, view our slideshow above, and for more on Hanny, his White House experiences and more than 300 recipes, check out Secrets from the White House Kitchens.