White House Kitchen

The Kitchen in 2009, looking north (White House - Pete Souza)

From Simple Cooks to Gourmet Chefs

In the early life of the White House, the African American staff and other servants who lived at the President’s House most often had rooms in the basement. Open at ground level on the south, the basement (referred to as the ground floor today) has windows on the north facing a deep areaway that is below grade. The kitchen and pantry together are about 22 feet by 27 1/2 feet.

The ground floor's vaulted Central Hall once accessed a great kitchen 40 feet long with large fireplaces at each end, a family kitchen, an oval servants hall, the steward’s quarters, storage and work rooms, and the servants’ bedrooms.

Prep for the 2002 Easter Egg Roll (White House)

 

An inventory for the year 1826, during John Quincy Adams’ administration, records the typical furniture used by servants in the first half of the 19th century. For example, the cook slept on a cot, and had a pine wardrobe and a pine table; other servants’ rooms were similar, with cots and mattresses and "low post" bedsteads, blankets, and sheets; sometimes they had benches, chairs, and tables. Often the furniture was described as "worn out" or "in want of repair."

Despite mold, poor plumbing, and rats, the White House Kitchen continued to feed its residents and guests in an elegant manner through to the modern era. Today, the kitchen is clean and well-maintained. With five full-time chefs, the White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hors d'oeuvres to more than 1,000.

Every president and first lady is different. Some, like Mamie Eisenhower, are intimately involved in choosing the menu for dinners while others, like Pat Nixon, want the chef to surprise them. After the first large Nixon dinner, Chef Henry Haller went to Chief Usher JB West. "The president came into the kitchen tonight and told me it was delicious. Can you imagine? The president himself. That never happened before."

 

 

More Images

The first lady reviews dinner preparations in 2009, looking west (Getty)

The first lady reviews dinner preparations in 2009 (Getty)

The Kitchen staff preparing for a state dinner in 2005 (White House - Shealah Craighead)

The White House Kitchen, circa 2004

The White House Kitchen in 1992, looking southeast (HABS)

The White House Kitchen in 1992, looking northwest (HABS)

Christmas pastries being made in 1991 (George Bush Library)

Nancy Reagan checking on final preparations for a state dinner in 1982 (Reagan Library)

Preparations for a state dinner in 1981 (Reagan Library)

The Kitchen in 1971, shortly after renovation in August, looking southeast (White House curator)

The Kitchen in 1971, shortly after renovation in August, looking southeast (White House curator)

Kitchen staff preparing the cake for Tricia Nixon's wedding to Edward Cox in 1971 (Library of Congress)

White House chef in 1967 (Life)

View to the southeast in 1960, from the Kitchen Pantry (National Geographic - Thomas Nebbia)

Mamie Eisenhower in the Kitchen in 1958 (Life)

Mamie Eisenhower in the Kitchen in 1958 (Life)

The Truman-era Kitchen in 1952 (Truman Library)

The Truman-era Kitchen in 1952, as the reconstruction was being completed (Truman Library)

The Truman-era Kitchen in 1948, before the reconstruction (Truman Library)

Recreation of the Kitchen, circa 1943 (Backstairs at the White House)

The newly renovated Kitchen in 1935, looking southwest into the pantry

The newly renovated Kitchen in 1935, looking east

The Kitchen in 1935, before renovation, looking east

The Kitchen in 1935, looking southwest, before renovation (National Park Service)

The Kitchen, circa 1934, looking northeast

The Kitchen, circa 1933, looking northeast

Recreation of the Kitchen, circa 1923 (Backstairs at the White House)

The Kitchen in the Taft era around 1909 (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The Kitchen in the Taft era around 1909, looking east (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The Kitchen in the Theodore Roosevelt era in 1904 (Library of Congress - Waldon Fawcett)

The Kitchen in the Theodore Roosevelt era in 1904, looking east (Library of Congress - Waldon Fawcett)

The Kitchen in the Theodore Roosevelt era in 1904, looking southeast (Library of Congress - Waldon Fawcett)

The Kitchen in the Theodore Roosevelt era in 1904, looking southwest into the pantry (Library of Congress - Waldon Fawcett)

The Kitchen in the Theodore Roosevelt era in 1903, looking southwest (Library of Congress - Barnett McFee Clindinst)

The McKinley-era Kitchen, circa 1901, looking southwest (Library of Congress - CM Bell)

The McKinley-era Kitchen in 1901, looking east (Library of Congress - CM Bell)

The White House Kitchen, looking northeast, circa 1892;
in the upper left is the old kitchen in the Jackson era; upper right is Chester Arthur's Chef Hugo Ziemann (White House)