A state dinner in the US is a high honour accorded to a visiting dignitary. How is it different from the other lunches and dinners visiting leaders have with the US President? We explain.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a White House decorated with peacocks and lotus blooms on Thursday, hosting a vegetarian dinner but no specialties from Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
PM Modi’s US visit: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in New York for a three-day visit to the USA. While Modi has visited the US several times as PM before, this is his first state visit to the country, and will include a state dinner hosted in his honour at the White House on June 22.
What is a state dinner, and how is it different from the other lunches and dinners visiting leaders have with the US President? We explain.
PM Modi’s US visit First, what is a state visit?
State visits are the highest-ranked category of foreign visits to the US, where the head of a state visits the US on the formal invitation of the US President. Before Modi, the only two state visits under President Joe Biden have been by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol. Invitation for a state visit signifies that the US considers the guest nation an important friend and ally.
What is a state dinner?
The state dinner is held at the White House, the residence of the US President, and has the symbolic value of a visiting dignitary sharing a meal at the host’s home.
According to the website of the White House Historical Association (WHHA), “A state dinner honoring a visiting head of government or reigning monarch is one of the grandest and most glamorous of White House affairs. It is part of an official state visit and provides the president and first lady the opportunity to honor the visiting head of state and his or her spouse. It is a courtesy, an expression of good will, and a way of extending hospitality.
Who plans the state dinner, and how?
“To this day, presidents and first ladies continue to set the tone of their administration’s entertainment. The first lady and her staff are responsible for the elaborate planning and attention behind the glitter and ceremony of the state dinner. These formal dinners involve the creation of invitations and guest lists, menus, flowers, table settings, seating arrangements, and entertainment for the evening,” the WHHA website says.
The State Dining Room can seat 120 people, and usually, several round tables are preferred to sidestep the tricky seating protocol of one long table. Larger events can be held on the White House lawns.
For the menu, special attention is paid to the dietary preferences and religious beliefs of the visiting dignitary.
For instance, when Israel PM Menachem Begin visited on April 15, 1980, a rabbi supervised the food being prepared. Roland Mesnier, the then White House pastry chef, is quoted as saying on the WHHA website, “The dinner was to be kosher and dairy-free, including my dessert… since my ice cream machine had churned many batches of dairy-rich ice cream and couldn’t be boiled or cleansed with the torch, the rabbi insisted that
I make the sorbet—just orange juice and sugar—in a brand-new machine. I knew from a friend that Jean-Louis, a restaurant at the Watergate Hotel, had just unpacked a new ice cream freezer and hadn’t yet used it, so I high-tailed it over there to make my sorbet, packed it in ice, and rushed back to the White House.”
What is being planned for Modi’s dinner?
While not all the details are known yet, CNN reported that since PM Modi is vegetarian, “Nina Curtis, a plant-based chef from Sacramento, California, will be the dinner’s guest chef, working with White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, and White House Executive Pastry Chef Susie Morrison to develop the menu”.
Joshua Bell, Grammy-winning violinist and conductor, will provide the entertainment for the evening, CNN reported.