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White House Chef To Serve Canadian Poutine At State Dinner


Speaking of presidential politics, tonight at the White House, the president and first lady are hosting Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, for a state dinner. At events like this, the Obamas have typically served dishes that nod to the cuisine of the visiting world leader. So tonight, before the Alaskan halibut casserole and the lamb chops, guests will enjoy a version of Canada's famous poutine. To get some insight, we have reached Na'eem Adam in Montreal, and he knows from poutine. He helped create the annual poutine week. Welcome to the show.

NA'EEM ADAM: Hey, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Poutine is often served late at night, perhaps after a few drinks. I have seen it described as a beer sponge. Describe what it is.

ADAM: Well, I guess the classic rendition of the poutine, as we say it here...

SHAPIRO: You call it poutine there, not poutine. Am I saying it wrong?

ADAM: No, you're not saying it wrong. I guess you're just saying it in an English way.


ADAM: But since it's a French or a Quebecois dish, it would be poutine. And I've had a lot of sticklers get at me for calling it poutine.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ADAM: So I'm trying to stick to the authentic poutine name.

SHAPIRO: Potato, potato.

ADAM: Yeah, exactly.

SHAPIRO: Which is one ingredient, actually.

ADAM: Yeah, exactly. It's the - some would say the base - the potatoes, the fries. And there's a brown gravy. The gravy's usually used to mix the dish together and to melt away the cheese curds.

SHAPIRO: So it's cheesy. It's salty. It's got fat. Its got carbohydrates. It sounds delicious but not like something you would typically find on White House china.

ADAM: (Laughter) No, so I'm really excited to see how it looks like, actually. I have a friend that was invited there.

SHAPIRO: Oh, really?

ADAM: And - yeah. And I asked her - I'm like, please, can you send me a photo? She obviously didn't answer me because she has better things to think about right now, but I'd love to see that photo.

SHAPIRO: Now, apparently they are serving a kind of interpretation of poutine, poutine. It's going to be one bite on a sort of wafer with red wine gravy and smoked duck.

ADAM: Did you say one bite - one bite?

SHAPIRO: It's like a canape.

ADAM: Yeah, I guess. It's hard to think of it as a canape.

SHAPIRO: I mean, you're a traditionalist when it comes to this dish, right?

ADAM: Yeah, a purist.

SHAPIRO: So if the White House is apparently adding smoked duck and a red wine gravy, how do you feel about this reinterpretation?

ADAM: I'm OK with it that they're adding these elements on top of it. Duck is great. Duck was one of those things that was really one of the first ingredients that were put on top of a poutine that really gave it an international mark and a little bit more flavor as well. And it moves away from, like, more of a traditional, like, food for the people to something that, you know, is acceptable on silverware like you're saying. But one bite - I don't know. I don't know.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You might go up to the White House servers and say, can I have another?

ADAM: I would be like, can you put a few of these canapes in a bowl for me, please?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) That's Na'eem Adam, co-creator of poutine week, poutine week. He spoke with us from Montreal. Thanks so much.

ADAM: (Laughter) Take care.


ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) You like potato, and I like potato. You like tomato. I like tomato, potato, potato, tomato, tomato. Let's call the whole thing off. But, oh, if we call the whole thing off... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.