South Bend, Indiana
February 24,2006
Many Thanks to Ida Chipman for graciously allowing us to reproduce this article.

Hail to the chefs
Argos caterers make lunch fit for a head of state

Tribune Correspondent

Pat and Robin Burkett didn't get any sleep Wednesday night.

At 2:30 a.m. Thursday, the couple, owners of The Log House Restaurant and the Haul-a-Hog Catering Service in Argos, were busy putting the finishing touches on the food for the luncheon to be held for President Bush during his visit to Bethel College Thursday.

Lunch for 500 guests was a piece of cake. The Burketts, in the business for better than 25 years, have served as many as 1,800 people at one time at factory picnics. They've worked as chefs at the Elks Club in Rochester and Swan Lake Resort, Plymouth, and have owned three restaurants.

And they've catered large events for Bethel College.

But this was different.

"I mean, how much more special can you get than preparing food for the president of the United States?" Robin asked. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Getting approval from the White House was a struggle.

"The people in Washington who are in charge of such events wanted to use one of the larger catering firms in South Bend," Robin said. They questioned just who and what the Log House was.

Maybe the powers-that-be weren't impressed with the information that it's a popular family restaurant on U.S. 31, featuring homemade soups, desserts and dinners.

"It was the Bethel College folks who fought for us," Robin said. "They told White House officials that we'd done things for Bethel before and that they trusted our food and our presentation."

They stuck to their guns and the Burketts got the job.

It was, according to Robin, working within U.S. Secret Service rules that was the most challenging.

"It was absolutely the biggest challenge we've ever faced," she said, "one that will probably never come again, but that we wouldn't have missed for the world."

"You have absolutely no idea how interesting this entire project has been."

After they got the go-ahead, the menu had to be approved by the White House staff.

"We didn't worry about that too much. (Chocola's) representative had said that people don't come to these things for the food."

Everyone associated with the meal had to have a security check. Included were the Burketts' three children: Matt, Amy and Natalie.

Because the Bethel kitchen facilities were not available for them -- with the college in session, student meals came first -- all of the food was prepared in The Log House kitchen in Argos. The catering truck was loaded before dawn with the entrées and vegetables packed in hot boxes that keep things warm up to eight hours.

Because the Secret Service stipulated that no vehicles would be allowed to park on campus after 8 a.m., they parked across the street in the Town and Country parking lot along with several vans full of people helping with the serving.

Everyone was required to exit the dining premises by 8 a.m.

"That's when they swept the rooms with their electronic devices," Robin said.

"We had set the tables with napkins and glassware but no silverware. Apparently, there has been an incident at some point in the past concerning eating utensils."

The Burketts were not permitted to even push the chairs under the tables.

"They scanned everything," Pat noted. Tables, chairs -- the entire room.

The Burketts and their volunteer staff were allowed back in the building at 10 a.m. to prepare for the private reception and photo opportunity with Bush at 11:30 a.m.

"One other little problem we had was that we had no idea when we were going to serve the lunch, " Robin said.

"Everything was set around the president's schedule. The reception was to start at 11 -- it didn't. The lunch was announced to be at noon. It wasn't."

But the lunch was a success.

"We faced every obstacle," Robin said.

And then some. The Burketts also prepared a supper, cooking the meal in the parking lot in the borrowed Southern Pride Rotisserie Cooker, for the 100 plus volunteers who had worked during the day.

But that one was easier: When Air Force One took off, so did the Secret Service.

The menu MBR> Here is what was served for Thursday's fundraising lunch for U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola attended by President Bush.

· Polynesian chicken breasts served over a rice pilaf.
· Gourmet salad of baby spring mix greens with a choice of raspberry vinaigrette or ranch dressing.
· Steamed Malibu vegetable mix, a combination of yellow squash, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.
· Assorted hot breads
· Coffee and tea
· On each table was a platter of homemade miniature desserts: tiny peanut butter pies topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce; chocolate Fanny Mae cakes; strawberry or lemon cream cakes and cherry cheese cakes, garnished with fresh fruit.

Return to the Marshall County Scrapbook