Trudeau's state dinner menu blends American and Canadian flavours

The menu for Thursday's state dinner features American ingredients from coast to coast and blends Canadian flavours and inspirations including poutine and Nanaimo bars. The dessert plates are inspired by the Rocky Mountains and feature edible bears and white chocolate snowballs.

Main course includes lamb and spring vegetables, dessert includes white chocolate snowballs

A sample place setting is set up before the state dinner that will be held Thursday in honour of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Guests will be served on the Obama china. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

The Obamas will be serving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and about 200 guests at Thursday night's state dinner a menu featuring some American comfort food and nods to Canadian cuisine and landscapes — poutine, Nanaimo bars and white chocolate snowballs.

The elaborate dinner that U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are hosting for the prime minister and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, features ingredients from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic coast. White House executive chef Cris Comerford said she planned it with spring in mind.

When the guests lucky enough to get a coveted invitation to the black-tie affair arrive, they will be served an array of canapés, including one made from Hudson River duck. Comerford said it was inspired by Canada's famous dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. "It's a mini-version of a poutine," she told reporters who got a preview of the menu at the White House Wednesday. "We're very excited."

Dinner's first course is a baked Alaskan halibut casserole, with angel hair asparagus, chanterelles and spring onion with herbed butter made with herbs from Michelle Obama's garden.
The flower arrangements are made up of orchids, hydrangeas and amaranth and were designed to reflect the scenic beauty of both countries and the coming of spring. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

"A casserole is very American, it's a comfort dish," said Comerford, adding that it's being prepared in an elegant way and will be served in tureens from the Obama china set that have never been used before.

Next, guests will be served salad with apricots roasted in ginger, cardamom and honey that is made at the White House, garnished with cheese from Virginia. The main course is tender lamb from Colorado served with Yukon Gold potatoes and spring vegetables. For some Canadian flavour, the dish is drizzled with Yukon Jack Canadian whisky.

'Nuances of Canada'

Comerford said she wanted to blend flavours from both countries. "We use a lot of nuances of Canada in our menu but at the same time it's very American in its nature." She described the menu as "progressive" and noted that the Trudeaus are a young and healthy couple.

Guests should be sure to save room for some not-so-healthy dessert, however, because White House pastry chef Susie Morrison has created sugary, edible works of art.
The dessert plate was inspired by the Rocky Mountains and features edible bears and deer and a selection of bite-size treats. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

The plates, 22 of them, are meant to reflect the passing of winter and the coming of spring. Morrison said she was inspired by the Rocky Mountains and named her design "A View from the Mountain Top." On each plate is a photo of the mountainous landscape and a selection of bite-size treats — cranberry squares, golden raisin tarts, chocolate coconut slices, white chocolate snowballs and fleur de sel caramels.

Morrison said the chocolate coconut dessert was inspired by Nanaimo bars, and Canadians' love of butter tarts inspired the golden raisin tarts. The plates also include miniature bears and deer handmade out of chocolate.

If that weren't enough, dessert also includes individual servings of a dish that has cotton candy on top, and underneath a warm maple pecan cake and butterscotch ice cream. The maple syrup is from New England, not north of the border, and the pecans are from Texas.

Live entertainment

Thursday night's dinner will be held in the East Room. The décor was designed to reflect the friendship between Canada and the U.S. and the coming of spring. The colour scheme is green and white and the flower arrangements include orchids, hydrangeas and amaranth, arranged in such a way to represent the rivers that flow between the countries.
Guest list for the state dinner will be released hours before it begins. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

As guests arrive, they will hear the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and after dinner there will be a performance in the state dining room by pop singer Sara Bareilles. The Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir will join her for one song.

A state dinner is considered a high honour for a visiting foreign leader, and Obama has only hosted 10 before this one during his time in the White House. It's an opportunity for Trudeau and Obama to continue building their personal relationship and to have a good time after a day of meetings.

Wine will be served at dinner, but the White House brews its own beer, if Trudeau would like a taste.

"If he asks for it, we're more than happy to serve the beer," chef Comerford said.

The guest list, which typically includes some celebrities, is still under wraps. The White House is expected to release it publicly only a few hours before the dinner.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.