NOT SINCE HERBERT HOOVER PROMised a chicken in every pot has there been such a stirring yet simple declaration of culinary-political purpose. “The American people want health,” says Waller Scheib III, the newest White House appointee, “but they still want ice cream.”
Scheib, 39, though, isn’t just some sloganeering politician—he is the nation’s new First Chef, picked by Hillary Rodham Clinton to impose healthy American values on the White House kitchen. His appointment (he takes over in mid-April) lays to rest Kitchengate, the tempest in a soup tureen caused when incumbent Pierre Chambrin resigned, reportedly because of the First Lady’s preference for low-fat fare.
Scheib, raised in Bethesda, Md., has a culinary pedigree as American as apple pie. “My mother always had something going in the kitchen,” he says, “and I was always nosing around, seeing what was going on.”
After graduating from “the other CIA”—the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.—in 1979, Scheib worked at the Capitol Hilton in Washington (where he met his wife, Jean, now 35, also a chef) and then at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida before becoming executive chef at the Greenbrier resort in While Sulphur Springs, W.Va., in 1991. There he supervised a staff of 200 and, yes, served healthy meals. “Our light dishes are indistinguishable from normal food,” he says. “It’s good food; it’s just lower fat.” But what if the First Family wants hamburger? “If they want a great burger,” says Scheib, “you give them a burger better than they expected.”
Scheib, who has two sons, 6 and 3, has just one regret—that his mother, Jean, who died last month at 67, didn’t live to see his appointment. “She got me started on the road,” he says. “It would have been nice for her to see the final destination.”