The chef gave the first family a taste of the Windy City at a state dinner that featured a performance by Beyoncé

By Zach Haberman and Liza Hamm
May 20, 2010 04:00 PM
Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Jetting to one of his favorite Chicago restaurants isn’t so easy for President Obama anymore, so he did the next best thing – he invited renowned chef Rick Bayless to cook for him and 200 guests at the White House.

Bayless, who won Top Chef Masters‘ first season and is a fixture on the Chicago culinary scene, served Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan Black mole at Wednesday’s state dinner for Mexican president Felipe Calderén and his wife, Margarita Zavala. For Michelle Obama, the meal especially conjured memories of the Windy City.

“The First Lady was really pleased,” Bayless told PEOPLE. “She said it reminded her of all the times they’ve been to our restaurant [Frontera Grill]. [President Obama] and his wife both talked to me about the flavors and how it reminded them of home.”

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Wednesday’s dinner was the first time the chef has been able to cook for the Obamas since after the 2009 inauguration.

“They’re so incredibly wonderful to have as guests in the restaurant because they’re so personable. They’ve enjoyed many longs meals at the table,” the chef said.

Though he’s cooked for the first family before, being in the White House isn’t exactly the same as cooking in his restaurant. “Working in restaurant situation, we don’t work on that same kind of schedule,” he said. “Surely, we want to get the food out in a timely fashion but this is really fast!”

After dinner, attendees were treated to a performance by Beyoncé in a tent on the South Lawn decorated with hundreds of hanging butterflies that left Bayless feeling like he was “going into a nightclub.”

“It was these black walls and ceilings and these gorgeous orange butterflies hanging by the thousands,” he said. “It was really stunning.”