The Neelys’ Unforgettable Easter Experience at the White House by Pat and Gina Neely in Events, Food Network Chef, April 12th, 2012
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We thought we had done and seen it all, but the past few days have been a whirlwind of great memories. It all started Saturday night: It was our daughter Shelbi’s junior prom, and she looked as beautiful as her mom as she left to enjoy her amazing and memorable night.
As the sun came up on Easter Sunday morning, we got up and started packing for our flight to Washington, D.C., to attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. As soon as we landed, we were like kids on Christmas morning. We arrived at our hotel and turned in early so we would be ready to roll first thing the next day.
The car arrived promptly at our hotel at 8 a.m. Monday, and it was only then that our excitement started to turn to nerves. We were going to the White House. Not just for a group tour, but to meet the first lady as her official guests at the White House Annual Easter Egg Roll. We were also invited to host two cooking demonstrations for all of the guests, as well as the first family — that’s enough to give anyone a bubbly stomach.
When we arrived at the entrance gate, getting through security was smooth and easy since they were expecting us. We were assigned an escort who took us directly to the tented area on the lawn that served as a green room. It was there that the real fun started and we got to meet some incredible people: Carla Hall from ABC’s The Chew; actor, producer and director Forrest Whittaker; tennis great Chris Evert; chef Marcus Samuelsson; Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern; and many others. We looked at each other and said, “Boy, have we arrived.” There was a great sense of camaraderie with this crew of folks, and we had a great time taking photos and sharing stories.
Before long, our escort arrived to let us know it was almost time for us to meet the first lady. It was finally happening. As we strolled across the grounds of the White House lawn, there seemed to be thousands of people at this family-friendly event. All ages, backgrounds and ethnicities — just one big melting pot of Americans. And the kids in all their Easter outfits! It was a great sight to see.
While walking to meet Michelle Obama, we were humbled and honored to have so many people stop us to say hello or tell us they loved our show. We happily signed autographs and took photos with kids and parents alike. There was an incredible feeling of excitement and joy at this event that we hadn’t experienced before. Having an 8-year-old ask you for a picture and tell you how much he loves you, well, that makes you feel really good.
When we got to the staging location for our meeting with the first lady, we realized we were only a few feet from the Rose Garden. We had seen it so many times on TV, but to see it in person is quite a different experience. We were asked to hold tight where we stood, and while standing there we could hear the crowd start to roar. We turned to see what was next, and guess who strides by with the coolest walk ever? You guessed it: Our very own President of the United States. He had just left the basketball court where he was showing the kids his jump shot. As he walked along, he waved at all of the kids and headed toward them with his two beautiful girls and their grandmother not far behind.
As we were taking this all in, we looked over and saw a very elegant woman walking toward us with the most beautiful smile you can imagine. She was very festive, dressed in beautiful bright colors. She approached us immediately and the first words out of her mouth were, “The Neelys, you made it. We are so glad you could join us!” We were shocked that she recognized us. We hugged hello and Pat was even allowed to give her a small peck on the cheek. We chatted with Michelle Obama for about 10 minutes before she moved on to greet her other guests. We will never forget that moment or the warm feeling we felt inside just by being in her presence. The president is a lucky man to have such a beautiful, professional and gracious woman as his teammate in life.
A little while later, it was time for our cooking demonstration. We got on stage and did the demo for a large and enthusiastic crowd. We chose dishes that we felt the first lady would approve of given her emphasis on healthy eating and fitness: a shake, a mixed salad and a triple berry parfait, all of which appealed to our White House audience of families. They cheered and clapped, so the menu must have been a hit.
After our demo, Gina and I got a chance to really walk the grounds and enjoy the beautiful view of our nation’s capital. Just as we were about to wrap it up, a young man in a chef’s coat approached us to tell us how much he loved us. He then asked us if we had time to tour the White House kitchen. We looked at each other and thought, “OK, this must be a dream.” After the incredible day we had already had, one of the White House chefs is standing in front of us and asking us if we want to have a private tour of the kitchen where he makes the first family every meal? Of course our response was yes! The kitchen was incredible. We chatted with the head chef for about 20 minutes and wanted to know everything. What does the first family eat? Who plans their daily meals? Who shops? How do they handle special requests? How many staff members are there? You name it, we asked it. And you know what? They didn’t mind a bit.
As we headed out of the White House gates at the end of the day, we felt like we were floating on air. Our visit to the White House was more than we could have imagined. The spirit of the day is still with us and we hope to carry that good feeling for a good long while.
Pat and Gina
(All photos courtesy of Gina Neely’s Twitter page: @oinkgurl)