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Sunday, January 11, 2009


Last night my husband and I took a drive up to Chicago ’s Gold Coast to engage in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: looking into the living rooms of the uber-rich families who occupy the old mansions. We take this short detour once every couple of years, usually around the holidays when the tall houses are decorated and bustling with activity. From our vantage point in the car, we don’t see a lot, but we do get an idea of the bright spaciousness of the homes. And with an occasional glimpse of a chandelier, or tuxedoed butler, we get a sense of who lives there.

I think this is why I enjoy writing books about the White House so much. To me, the White House is the ultimate mansion. And it provides an irresistible temptation to peer inside. We all know there are tours of the president’s home, but what we really want to know is what goes on when the tours are over—how the family lives day-to-day. I want to be there as the First Family interacts with the staff. I want to experience the last-minute panic before a State Dinner, and I’d love to watch as such an intricate event is orchestrated. I especially want to know what happens when things go wrong.

Since I can’t actually sneak peeks inside, I create stories to satisfy these cravings. Researching the White House has been more fun than I ever imagined. What I like best is discovering bits of unexpected trivia I can incorporate into Ollie’s adventures. In speaking with Walter Scheib, (former White House Executive Chef), for instance, I found out several nuggets I was able to include in the second book, HAIL TO THE CHEF. Who knew that the basement-mezzanine level was affectionately referred to as “The B.M. Level”? I don’t think you’ll find that in too many other books. I love learning these hidden details. And the best part is the fact that the White House is not only a seat of our nation’s history, it’s a living house, so changes occur every day. Keeping up with the news, and keeping in touch with people in the know, helps me to keep Ollie’s stories fresh.

As of this writing, interest is high regarding the position of executive chef under the Obama administration. Foodies across the nation are speculating as to who will be named to the position. Personally, I hope the Obama family retains the current executive chef, Cristeta Comerford. Appointed by Laura Bush, Cristeta is the first female in history to claim that position. Not only is she talented and well-respected, she’s as close to my character, Ollie, as any White House chef ever has been. Of course, I’ll bet Cristeta doesn’t run around whacking assassins in the head with frying pans. At least not too often….

Which brings me to the next book—Number Three in the series has been turned in. In this book Ollie continues to report to fictional President Campbell and his wife. But in Book Number Four, I think it will be fun to take Ollie through a transition. Will a new administration find her as charming and capable as the Campbells do? I imagine it will be fun to find out what a new president thinks of his adventuresome chef and I can’t wait to peek into their lives to find out.


Livia said...

Welcome to TRRC Julie, I am a big fan of Ollie Paras and I have my copy of HAIL TO THE CHEF which I've just started. In researching the White House kitchen can you tell me if they use any of the cookbooks from the earlier years and do they use any of the utensils from the early years? There are parts of the White House that hold so many originals I was wondering if the kitchen does too.

Also, is the romance between Ollie and her Secret Service Agent going to escalate?


Thia said...

Welcome to TRRC!!

You have made me very curious about all this! I am planning to pick up asm any of your book as possible right away!!

Angela S. said...

I really enjoyed HAIL TO THE CHEF. I was particularly intrigued during when Ollie cooked in the presidential family's personal kitchen. I think a lot of times it is hard to remember that the powerful people in Washington couldn't get anything accomplished with all the other "unsung" hard working people, like Ollie.

lcsears1 said...

Frying pan huh? I will definitely have to check this out! Welcome!

Julie Hyzy said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for letting me guest-blog here. It's been a lot of fun.

Livia: I can't speak to which utensils the kitchen staff specifically uses from earlier years, but I can tell you that they don't buy new tools very often because the kitchen is on a strict budget.

Incidentally - I mentioned this in the books -- the president pays for the family's food out of the family's personal pocket. And every single purchase in the kitchen is accounted for.

A lot of the equipment in the kitchen is old, but as long as it still works, they use it.

Thanks so much for all your warm welcomes! I'm very happy to be here.

Julie Hyzy said...

Oops, forgot to talk about Ollie's boyfriend ...

He's pretty busy (and mostly absent) in HTTC, but he comes back and plays a bigger role in the third novel.


Thanks for asking!

Livia said...

Oh wow!! You would think that with all the entertaining that is done in the White House the budget would be more open. However it is nice to know that since the President is paid a salary he pays for their groceries the same as we do. Do you know if they have really have secret service testers to test the Presidents food to make sure it is okay?


Debora said...

Hi, Julie!

I have your two books in my tbr and can't wait to get to them! I know writers don't often get to pick their titles, but that was how I found the first book at Borders when I was browsing in the mystery section! STATE OF THE ONION really pulled me in, and HAIL TO THE CHEF is even more

Best Wishes in your writing and with this series!


Elissa said...

Hi Julie,

Thanks for guest blogging! I think your book sounds very intriguing, definitely different from others out there. I love reading fresh ideas, in places most don't write about in fiction. You must be happy that the Obamas are indeed keeping the current executive chef, Cristeta Comerford. I think it's a smart move. When did you interest in the White House begin? Have you ever thought of having a political career or doing something other than writing? All the best in the New Year!

Rhea Alexis said...

Thank you Ms. B for what I am sure will be another engaging and enlightening story as the others have been. Waiting with bated breathe.

Rhea Alexis
Chicago, IL

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