By Katherine Skiba
9:00 PM EST, February 11, 2014
French President Francois Hollande was feted Tuesday by President Barack Obama at a state dinner that drew political, business and Hollywood heavyweights, but not Valerie Trierweiler, who was considered France’s first lady before her highly publicized split with Hollande last month.
Guests invited to dine with the suddenly single French leader included actor Bradley Cooper, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, comedian Stephen Colbert, New York Times editor Jill Abramson and Jason Collins, the former pro basketball player who announced last year that he is gay.
Obama aides Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker were among the Illinoisans on the White House guest list. Chicago-born Cody Keenan, a Northwestern grad and presidential speechwriter, also attended.
Invited Republicans were led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee.
Few guests ventured a view on Hollande going stag, but one, former NAACP chief Ben Jealous, remarked: “I think the French are way cooler than we are … and they certainly have better gossip.”
On a wintry night, the gala unfolded in a heated pavilion on the South Lawn. Steak and potatoes played leading parts in the four-course dinner, but caviar and cotton candy popped up separately in supporting roles.
Cotton candy at a state dinner? Yes, dusted with orange zest and among late-night treats after dessert, the White House said.
American Osetra caviar from Illinois joined quail eggs from Pennsylvania in kicking off the feast. Next came a salad seasoned with herbs from the White House garden and topped with vinaigrette containing honey from the White House bees.
Dry-aged ribeye beef, with blue cheese, charred shallots, oyster mushrooms and braised chard, was the main course. The dessert: a geometric-shaped layer cake combining bittersweet chocolate from Hawaii with tangerines from Florida and served a la mode with vanilla ice cream.
The all-American wine list included Morlet’s “La Proportion Doree” 2011 from California, Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 from Washington state and Tibaut-Jannison Blanc de Chardonnay, a sparkling wine from Monticello, Va.
Mary J. Blige was to perform after dinner.
Michelle Obama, an aide said, wore a black and “liberty blue” dress by designer Carolina Herrera.
Cosmopolitan magazine editor Joanna Coles said she was “super excited” to be included, disappointed to hear there would be no dancing and, finally, hoping her peek-a-boo dress “wasn’t too slutty.”
The event was the seventh state or official dinner of the five-year-old Obama presidency. In November, the White House said it would welcome Hollande and Trierweiler on a state visit, but plans changed when the two ended a long relationship after tabloid photos showed him leaving the apartment of a younger Frenchwoman, actress Julie Gayet.
Hence the dinner sought to shift the focus on another relationship — the one between U.S. and France — which, despite occasional contretemps, has endured for more than 200 years.
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