In order to prepare, I went grocery shopping in Jackson Heights, Queens, with my sous chef, Michael Garrett, because they have the best spices in a neighborhood called Little India.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could honor the president, the first lady and their distinguished guests while celebrating American and Indian culture. As I did my research on the first lady, it was so great to learn how much she cared about food and cultivating a garden on the South Lawn. I loved the fact that the first lady felt that through cultivating a garden, she could create a dialogue with the American people on what types of vegetables would keep them healthy and strong. I thought it would be great to use items from the garden, so we used arugula, thyme, dill, oregano and pineapple sage to create a menu that reflected the history of America and India and of African-Americans.
I started to think about the Obama administration and how interesting it would be to highlight a new approach to the state dinner. Since the president and the first lady really work hard to reach out to people all over the world, I wanted the first dish to represent something that is universal.
With these ideas in mind, we cooked more than 14 dishes for Sam to taste, including paneer eggplant salad, curry-rubbed chicken and tandoori smoked salmon.
Find out how the tasting went