The day I made Obama stew | The Times (UK)

Presidential order: Armstrong had a surprise call to work one day to cook for special guests. He gave them chicken casserole

Irish chef Cathal Armstrong has cooked an anniversary dinner for the US president and first lady. Now he’s helping to improve the diets of American schoolchildren

by Corinna Hardgrave


You may not have heard of Irish chef Cathal Armstrong, but the American president has. To celebrate their wedding anniversary in 2011, Barack and Michelle Obama chose Restaurant Eve, Armstrong’s fine-dining venue in Alexandria, Virginia, for a romantic meal for two.

“My brother was visiting from Ireland, so it was the first time in five years I was off on Saturday. When the phone rang and on the caller ID I could see it was the restaurant, I angrily picked up and said, ‘What? What do you want?’ They said, ‘You have to come back in to work — the president’s going to be here in half an hour.’

“I had been in the process of cooking a chicken casserole dish when I got the phone call, so that’s what I cooked for them. Now I call it President Obama stew,” he says. “They ate dinner at a table in the restaurant like everyone else, but with the secret service standing everywhere. They put a couple of people in the kitchen to supervise, too. Nobody actually tasted anything, but they watched what we were doing. The president of the United States is not going to get poisoned on my watch.

“As the Obamas were leaving, I went out to greet them and introduced my brother. They were just back from Ireland and said, ‘Oh, we loved Ireland.’ They stayed and chatted with us and took photos. They were very gracious,” adds the Dubliner.

Armstrong is one of Ireland’s most successful exports, and the go-to chef in America for television cookery slots when St Patrick’s Day rolls around each year. He is married, with two children, and has lived in America for 26 years, where he is the head of a multimillion-dollar restaurant group in Virginia.