He Got Out of the Kitchen

UPDATED 03/21/1994 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/21/1994 at 01:00 AM EST

IT LOOKED LIKE A TYPICAL WASHINGTON decapitation. A certain White House official had reportedly displeased the First Lady, and on March 3 came the announcement: The official was out, along with his staff of three.

Another victim of Whitewater? No, more likely of white wine sauce. Pierre Chambrin, executive chef in the White House kitchen, had been sacrificed on the altar of nutritional correctness. Since the Inauguration, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has been trying to put the White House (especially her love-handled hubby) on a leaner, healthier diet. Classically schooled in the French tradition, Chambrin—a Bush holdover—may not have been sufficiently open to this nouvelle idea. A White House employee told The New York Times that Chambrin's desk "is covered with cookbooks, but they are all in French and they are all by-dead people."

Chambrin, 46, refuses to gel personal about his departure. "I believe," he says, "that when you leave you should leave on very good terms." Despite press reports that he was asked to resign, he insists it was solely his decision, but admits, "I have a different concept about the food" than the First Lady.

That difference has been apparent for some time. Mrs. Clinton has invited several American chefs to contribute ideas to Chambrin's dinner planning and even summoned low-fat guru Dr. Dean Ornish to the White House kitchen to demonstrate alternatives to Chambrin's beloved butter-and-cream sauces. Given Hillary's stated preference for an American-style chef, Chambrin's goose was already cooked.

"The Clintons are losing a great chef," says a fellow French chef who is one of Chambrin's defenders. Another, also French, says, "My opinion is that they [the Clintons] don't understand very well about grand cooking." With that kind of support it's unlikely that Chambrin, who came to the U.S. in 1969 and worked in Washington's esteemed Maison Blanche restaurant before moving to the Bush White House as a sous chef in 1990, will be unemployed for long. In the meantime he has agreed to stay on until March 26. After all, not even President Bill is capable of living by Big Macs alone.

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