Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Little Cultural Exchange.

It’s been a few crazy weeks at The Kitchen.  Even now, a few weeks after Michelle Obama, America’s first lady, graced our establishment, I am still moved by the cleverness and the generosity of her visit, and her powerful endorsement of what we are about and what she is about.
We have always been a busy and popular eatery but since her visit we are even busier, with loads of new faces coming from far and wide to see our tiny shop and sample our offerings.  Best of all has been the tremendous swell of goodwill from all our regular customers and the community about.  It is a powerful and wonderful thing.  We openly accept all the kind wishes and compliments and the sense of vindication about our whole operation.
On the morning of 28 June, I received a call from an aide on Michelle Obama’s ahead team telling me that she might be visiting for lunch.   Of course, we had to be completely discreet.  I gathered my troops and briefed them about the day: we would make the food we had planned for the day but we would need to spruce and polish fast and trade as though it was a regular day in The Kitchen.  Since we really can only seat about 15, we would need to make some space, move some furniture to accommodate the First Lady.  We were to expect about 25 guests with all her entourage.
For a few days before the visit, American visitors had lunch with us and asked unusual questions about The Kitchen.  How many people could we really seat?  Would we ever close our shop?  One of these visitors appeared three times in one day.  I knew Michelle Obama was visiting Cape Town but I decided to not get my hopes up: Woodstock must be a security nightmare!  And besides, we were too small for such a visit!  But do you know what?  Michelle Obama wanted to come to The Kitchen!  And she CHOSE to come to The Kitchen!   And her formidable security machine swung into action as smooth as can be to make it happen!
Secret Service contingents arrived around 12:10pm and we started quietly moving furniture and encouraging customers to decide on take-aways or to stay!  We did not want her to come to an empty shop devoid of all the usual hustle and bustle of lunchtime trade.
Next thing, some very large vehicles with Washington DC number plates pulled up outside our shop.  There was a strange excited silence as we waited.   Sir Lowry road was cordoned off during her visit.  And then Michelle Obama arrived.  I greeted her in the entrance to my shop and welcomed her warmly.  Next I gave her “the tour” of what we had for lunch that day, something I do regularly with countless first time visitors to The Kitchen.  I looked up for reassurance from my trusty crew usually stationed behind the counter to see a phalanx of international press.  Their work done, they shuffled out, the music went on and yay! my girls swung into action putting together lunches and sandwiches for Mrs Obama and her family and all her entourage.  We were having a party!
My Sweetheart, who I had called in (Baby, you’ve got to make us a playlist!  Help us move furniture!) said that there was a perceptible moment in which, during my introduction to the food and our shop, Mrs Obama switched from public relations mode to “I like these people.  This is going to be fun!”  There was laughter and buzz.
My mom, who had doggedly fought/charmed her way through the security cordon, was there too.  She was telling the first lady about the song that the Klopse composed especially for her that was being played on the radio.  Mrs Obama thought my mom was beautiful (which she is!)
The whole visit was marked by Michelle Obama’s warmth and genuineness.  There was a sense that she really wanted to be with us and give us the gift of her visit.  Only she could mobilise her formidable machine to make this happen.  How cool was she to choose The Kitchen?  We are the symbol of what she is on about:  yes you can!  You can make a once dire and dangerous little stretch of Woodstock buzz with wholesome energy and fantastic food!  A successful woman-owned business can inspire and be a force for good!  We can be true to being local and delivering great value.
Mrs Obama and I had a great encounter.   Her comfort in who she is allows those around her to feel comfortable too.  There was a great warmth between her family (what moral fortitude to keep a semblance of sanity and reality!) and her staff appear galvanised by clear purpose.
There were pictures with all my staff and some chatting and then she was ushered away.  But in the 40 minutes or so that she and her people spent with us, we had a party!  We managed to feed all the peeps and have them pay.  Phew!
Michelle Obama had been to The Kitchen!
What Michelle Obama ate:
Koshieri Rice Pilaf
Aubergine Ratatouille
Sumac Parsley Slaw
Beetroot Apple Coriander Salad
Chopped Turkish Salad
Barley Rocket Walnut Salad
Falafel & Hummus

Beetroot Apple Coriander Salad
4 Medium Beetroot boiled until tender and grated
4 Medium Granny Smith Apples, roughly peeled and grated
(equal quantity of beetroot: apple)
½ cup Vinaigrette
1 T honey (optional)
70g of chopped coriander
Salt & Black Pepper

Combine all together with wooden spoons or salad servers (you don’t want to mutilate your salad)
Arrange in a deep serving platter or bowl.

See 'The Tour" here: