At the end of this month, Sam Kass — White House chef, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy — will step down. Thirty-four and recently married, Kass, who has played a pivotal role in first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to encourage healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity, said that, while he loves the first family (they attended his wedding in August) and remains a staunch supporter of their work and mission, he is ready to join his wife, TV journalist Alex Wagner, in New York. “I have to put our future first,” Kass, who started as the Obamas’ personal chef in 2005, when the president was but a lowly freshman senator, told the Wall Street Journal.
A Chicago native and college athlete, Kass played baseball for the University of Chicago and graduated with a degree in U.S. History. He worked at 312 and Avec in Chicago and was trained as a chef by one of Austria’s greatest chefs, Chef Christian Domschitz in Vienna. If his past is any indication, Kass’ future will be filled with impressive accomplishments. Here are six things, in addition to cooking for the first family five nights a week, that Kass accomplished during his six years in the White House:
1. As a guiding force behind the first lady’s “Let’s Move” fitness initiative, he helped to shape and work toward its goals: giving kids a healthy start and parents the information to help them make healthy choices, improving food in schools and access to healthy, affordable foods, and encouraging kids to be active.
2. He was, according to the White House, the first to hold the post of senior policy adviser on nutrition.
3. He helped the first lady plant a Kitchen Garden on the White House’s South Lawn, growing organic seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs — including some that were grown in Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello. The garden, which was planted in 2009, can be toured by community organizations and school groups interested in gardening and healthy eating, and has inspired many schools and organizations to plant healthy gardens of their own. To date, the garden has yielded thousands of pounds of produce that has been used to feed event guests, staff and the First Family at the White House, with further harvests donated to local food shelters.
4. He supervised the installation of a beehive — a White House first — on the South Lawn, to pollinate the Kitchen Garden, as well as other plants and flowers around D.C. The colony’s estimated 70,000 (or more) bees also provide honey used in the White House kitchen.
5. He worked with President Obama to homebrew White House Honey Brown Ale and Honey Porter, using, yes, honey from the South Lawn’s hive. “As far as we know the White House Honey Brown Ale is the first alcohol brewed or distilled on the White House grounds,” Kass wrote in a blog post on the official White House website in 2012. “George Washington brewed beer and distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson made wine but there’s no evidence that any beer has been brewed in the White House. (Although we do know there was some drinking during prohibition…)”
6. He has helped to promote a widespread embrace of healthier food options — in stores and in schools — and to address the way food is marketed to kids. The New York Times has credited Kass with helping “popularize a way of eating embraced by moneyed urban foodies. Just as the first lady’s fashion choices and toned biceps permeate the consciousness of the country, Mrs. Obama and Mr. Kass have taken organic gardening and the whole-wheat-ification of grilled cheese sandwiches mainstream.”
Kass, who will continue to work on healthy-eating issues as he moves into the private sector, “has left an indelible mark on the White House,” President Obama told the Washington Post. “And with the work he has done to inspire families and children across this country to lead healthier lives, Sam has made a real difference for our next generation.”
Amy Reiter also contributes to FN Dish.
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Kent Weakley