Every four years, we exercise our right to vote, inviting—or welcoming back—the President of the United States to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But while the leader of the free world is an ever-rotating position, a few things in Washington stay pretty much the same. Namely, as we've recently found out, the White House kitchen.
Home to every U.S. president since John Adams, the White House has changed considerably in the last two centuries, but the kitchen, despite the addition of modern conveniences, has remained surprisingly simple and no-fuss over the years. (The placement of the sinks, ranges and ovens, for example, hasn't changed since Nixon was in office in the early 70's.) But don't let the humble design and understated atmosphere fool you—the food and the function is anything but. From serving watermelon pickles (a Harry Truman favorite) to distinguished guests like Winston Churchill, to preparing lavish meals for star-studded state dinners during the Obama administration, the kitchen and its chefs are known for assimilating to the tastes and the times of each president that inhabits the most famous residence in the world.
Here, in honor of Election Day, we're dishing up some fun facts about the heart of the President's home. Happy voting!
The White House kitchen circa 1901. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
1. The main kitchen has been in the same location—on the ground floor of The White House—since the mid-19th century, although the arched ceiling was replaced with a flat one during the Truman-era renovation.
2. In addition to the main kitchen, there is also a family kitchen located on the second floor where the first family can gather for informal breakfasts or to raid the refrigerator. The home also features a smaller, more humble diet kitchen, which was installed for Franklin Roosevelt . (Rumor has it he despised his housekeeper's food so much, he wanted a small kitchen where he could fix his own meals on the side.) And last but not least, there's The Chocolate Room, devoted entirely to the preparation of pastries and, of course, chocolate confections.
3. It takes one whole hand to count the number of full-time chefs employed in The White House kitchen: five!
The White House kitchen in 2010. Photo by Bruce White for the White House Historical Association.
4. Even though The White House is a historic home, the current kitchen retains a commercial, contemporary feel with sleek stainless steel appliances, metal cabinets, butcher-block countertops, and linoleum flooring.
5. The cooking and counter space in the White House kitchen is equipped to handle all of the preparation necessary for dinner parties of up to 140 guests—or appetizers for 1,000 people.
Dolly Johnson, the family cook for President Benjamin Harrison, photographed in 1890. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
6. Before a renovation in the 1950s, all of the White House food was prepared in fireplaces because there was no stove. Today there are six ovens, a 16-foot-long stove, eight refrigerators, five dishwashers, a soup kettle, a meat grinder, waffle irons, mixers, a 30-gallon ice-cream freezer, and a deep fryer.
7. The main kitchen is completely enclosed by stainless-steel and glass doors, and a floor-to-ceiling partition in order to limit distractions during food prep.
8. The longest-serving White House executive chef was Henry Haller, who cooked for U.S. Presidents for 21 years.
9. The kitchen pantry features two dumbwaiters to lift food up to the butler's pantry on the first floor where the State Dining Room is located.
10. For a typical state dinner, the kitchen prepares a five-course meal for around 135 people, and it's served in 55 minutes exactly.
11. No ultra-modern renovations here! The placement of sinks, ranges, and ovens hasn't changed since the Nixon administration, and equipment from the 1970s is replaced only as necessary.
12. What's cooking? White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford prepares homemade hummus often—it's a presidential favorite.