State dinner has it all: Beyonce, world-class chef

Published May 20, 2010

WASHINGTON – For all the world-class food and entertainment, deft touches and elegance of the evening, the Obamas' second state dinner was as notable for what didn't happen as what did.

As far as anyone could tell, no one crashed the party. And no other major disasters were apparent either.

As the evening wore on, the smiles on the faces of White House staff seemed to get more relaxed. And even the president loosened up.

"I know we just had a very formal dinner," Obama said as guests reassembled in a tent on the South Lawn for dessert and after-dinner entertainment. "But we heard that this was the place for the real party."

And party they did, to the music of guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela and then to the sounds of an artist whom Obama referred to as "somebody some of you may have heard of — named Beyonce." And, yes, her husband Jay-Z was in the house too.

Obama declared it his mission to get Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala, out on the dance floor along with himself and first lady Michelle Obama. But reporters were ushered out before the after-party ever got to the dancing stage.

The special eagerness to pull off a flawless evening Wednesday had its beginnings in the brouhaha that erupted after a couple of party-crashers penetrated the Obamas' first state dinner in November.

The White House promised tighter security this time — and it delivered.

Among the hundreds who lined up to get in, at least one woman was turned away for lack of proper ID.

Kathryne Mudge said her husband, Arturo Valenzuela, an assistant secretary of state, was supposed to bring the necessary identification.

"My husband is the absent-minded professor," Mudge said.

Their evening wasn't a complete loss though.

The couple returned about an hour later, presumably with their IDs in order, and got in.

The dinner guest list of 200 had an ample celebrity quotient, including Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria Parker, George Lopez and Olympic speedskater Shani Davis.

Goldberg said it felt like she was "coming home after a long drought." She'd been invited frequently during Bill Clinton's years. But not during the George W. Bush years.

Lopez, a comedian, joked when asked about the security. "The guy with the glove was nice," he said.

Longoria Parker talked policy, saying it was an important time to be holding such a dinner with Mexican leaders, given the hot temperatures over immigration right now.

"You can't have these states doing their own punitive laws," she insisted, referring to Arizona's tough new immigration law.

For all of the seasoned guests who've been to many a state dinner, there were plenty of first-timers for whom it was a pinch-me moment.

Maria Vargas, from California, was one of the first to arrive, and came clutching her copy of "The Audacity of Hope."

She was out to get it autographed from Obama. "Hopefully," she said.

Agape Pappas, from Chicago, told reporters, "It's a dream," as she pinched her arm.

The evening's fashion report was heavy on women in bright, vibrant colors and strapless or one-shouldered gowns.

Mrs. Obama set the tone with a one-shoulder, shimmery, cobalt blue floor-length gown by Peter Soronen. Zavala wore a plum-colored, sleeveless gown with an Aztec-inspired blue border around the square neckline.

Davis, the skater, was a little weak on his fashion status. His green tie, he said, was from Men's Wearhouse, and he guessed that was where his suit came from too. Then he checked the label and announced, "Ralph Lauren."

The state dinner was a coming-out party of sorts for new White House social secretary Julianna Smoot, who sprinted off when reporters watching the guests arrive called out for her to stop and chat. Smoot's predecessor, Desiree Rogers, resigned earlier this year; she'd been criticized for her high-profile approach to the job.

For their second state dinner, Mrs. Obama recruited Chicago chef Rick Bayless — one of the couple's favorites — to prepare the meal. The main course of Oregon wagyu beef came with a Oaxacan black mole sauce with more than 20 ingredients that takes days to come together.

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Associated Press writer Christine Simmons contributed to this report.

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Online:

Guests invited to state dinner:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/expected-attendees-tonights-state-dinner-and-head-table-seating

Guests invited to reception and entertainment after state dinner:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/expected-attendees-joining-reception-following-state-dinner

(This version CORRECTS spelling of guest's name in 22nd graf to 'Agape' sted 'Agapa.')

Written by DARLENE SUPERVILLE and NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writers

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