Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Royal State Dinner at the Reagan White House

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981 has been aptly described as one of the most celebrated spectacles of the Reagan era. But because of the assassination attempt on President Reagan four months earlier, he couldn't attend, but he encouraged his wife Nancy to “serve as the United States representative at the event.”

Rising to the occasion, Mrs. Reagan traveled to England and spent one week in London, which was the longest amount of time she had been away from her husband in their then-twenty-nine years of marriage. During her stay, the First Lady reportedly attended eighteen events on behalf of the nation, including "a ball at Buckingham Palace, a dinner at the American Embassy, tea with the Queen Mother, and lunch with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.”

According to the Ronald Reagan Foundation,

Mrs. Reagan was an especially appropriate delegate for the United States to send to the Royal Wedding. The Reagans had met Prince Charles many years earlier, when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Also, in March of 1975 Ronald and Nancy had met Margaret Thatcher, and the future president and future prime minister found they shared a special connection even then...

Over the years, the President and Mrs. Reagan expressed their immense respect for their British friends in many ways, saving the first and last state dinners to honor Margaret Thatcher. Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended the first dinner in February 1981, and the Queen returned the honor when she hosted a state dinner for the Reagans’ visit to London when the president addressed Parliament in 1982.


The following year, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip visited Rancho del Cielo, the Reagans’ Santa Barbara ranch, and invited the Reagans aboard the royal yacht Brittania to celebrate an anniversary dinner. But of all the Royal visits to the Reagan White House, none were more memorable than the star-studded State Dinner held in honor of the Prince and Princess of Wales on November 9, 1985.

As the BBC reported at the time:

Prince Charles and Princess Diana have ended the first day of their much-vaunted trip to the USA at a gala dinner in Washington, hosted by President Reagan and his wife Nancy. They mixed with movie stars, such as Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Tom Selleck and the singer Neil Diamond as well as politicians and businessmen.

A small group of anti-British IRA supporters protested outside and there were a few slip-ups during the glamorous event. For a moment President Reagan forgot the Princess of Wales' name during an after-dinner speech to guests. "Permit me to add our congratulations to Prince Charles on his birthday just five days away," he said, "and express also our great happiness that...er...Princess David...Princess Diane (sic) is here on her first trip to the United States."


According to the report, the Princess herself, still suffering from jetlag, momentarily forgot to return the toast. But all that was forgotten when she famously took to the dance floor with John Travolta in her "midnight blue velvet dress and sapphire and diamond choker."

Earlier in the evening, an elegant dinner was held in the State Dining room, where ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov was seated next to Princess Diana, while Prince Charles sat between actress Beverly Sills and the First Lady. In addition to Neal Diamond, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, and Travolta, other well-known personalities who attended the affair included fasion icons Gloria Vanderbilt and Estee Lauder, Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, and architect I.M. Pei.

According to White House chef Henry Haller, the dinner menu that evening "was carefully designed to suit the noble tastes of the Prince and Princess, and to appeal to the varied tastes of their table mates. Since the Prince favors fish and fowl, the meal featured fennel-flavored lobster mousse as the first course and lightly glazed chicken for the entree."

If you'd like to whip up some Lobster Mousse for your next formal gathering, here is a delicious recipe to try from the New York Times:

1/2 pound cooked lobster meat
3/4 cup clam broth
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt, white pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Curly kale

Cut lobster into 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle gelatin over broth. Place over low heat; stir until thoroughly dissolved. Cool. Whip cream. Combine celery, onion, mustard, parsley, whipped cream, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, salt and pepper, lobster and cooled broth and mix thoroughly.

Spoon into 1-quart mold and seal tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least four hours or overnight. To serve, mix remaining mayonnaise with lemon juice. Unmold mousse and serve on curly kale, with lemon mayonnaise poured over the top. Serve with homemade Melba toast.

FOOD FACT: In The White House Family Cookbook, Chef Haller recalls that, even in the White House, Ronald Reagan preferred Macaroni and Cheese, Meat Loaf and other simple foods of his youth. The President usually had lunch in the Oval Office, and preferred "a light meal such as soup, bread, and a fruit dessert." He also liked minestrone with a wedge of fresh Italian bread, lentil soup with sliced frankfurters, navy bean or black beans soup, and Scotch broth made with barley." His favorite soup, however, was reportedly "a home-style hamburger soup made with beef broth, lean ground beef, fresh tomatoes, and hominy."

Thanks for stopping by THE HISTORY CHEF! For a free excerpt of my new book from Simon and Schuster please click here!

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