WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) — American taxpayers are opening up their collective wallets to fund White House state dinners.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s state dinner for French President Francois Hollande, CBS News learned that previous events have cost taxpayers over $500,000.
CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller obtained expense calculations from the Office of Protocol and found out Obama’s first five state dinners cost nearly $2 million.
Here is how the first five state dinners break down:
– State dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Nov. 24, 2009 cost $572,187.36.
– State dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon on May 19, 2010 cost $563,479.92.
– State dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao on Jan. 19, 2011 cost $412,329.73.
– State dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 7, 2011 cost $215,883.36.
– State dinner for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Oct. 13, 2011 cost $203,053.34.
The State Department has not released how much the March 14, 2012 state dinner of British Prime Minister David Cameron cost.
The French president traveled to the U.S. alone on the heels of his very public break-up with Valerie Trierweiler, his longtime companion and de facto first lady. The seating arrangements weren’t finalized and there was no word on who will occupy the seat that would have gone to Trierweiler, who once had been expected to attend.
Tuesday night’s bash, which is the seventh state dinner under Obama, will take place inside a huge white tent on the South Lawn.
The wine list is strictly American, with selections from California, Washington state and Virginia.
So is the entertainment. Mary J. Blige, a nine-time Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, producer and actress born in the Bronx, N.Y., will perform for some 350 guests who will be seated at a modern-looking assortment of round, square and oblong tables inside the tent.
White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard, who on Monday helped preview the dinner for U.S. and French media, explained the choice of Blige by saying she’s an internationally known singer who can help celebrate someone like the first-term French president. Blige is an Obama supporter who performed at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Hollande arrived in the U.S. on Monday and spent the afternoon with Obama touring Monticello, the Charlottesville, Va., home of President Thomas Jefferson, who was an early U.S. envoy to France. A formal welcoming ceremony will come Tuesday morning.
At the dinner, guests will first enter the White House and proceed through a receiving line to be greeted inside the oval-shaped Blue Room by Obama and his wife, before exiting and boarding an old-fashioned trolley for a ride to the tent for dinner and Blige’s high-octane musical performance.
The first course will feature American Osetra caviar, farmed from the estuaries of Illinois, paired with quail eggs from Pennsylvania and a dozen varieties of potatoes from farms in New York, Idaho and California.
That will be followed by a salad of petite radishes and baby carrots on a bed of lettuce and splashed with red-wine vinaigrette made using honey from the beehive on the South Lawn. The salad will be served in a clear, glass bowl and resemble a terrarium.
The main course, dry-aged rib eye beef from a farm in Greeley, Colo., will be served with blue cheese, charred shallots, oyster mushrooms and braised chard.
Dessert is chocolate malted cake, described as a modern version of a layer cake made with bittersweet chocolate from Obama’s native Hawaii, Florida tangerines and served with vanilla ice cream from Pennsylvania. After dinner, guests can dip into a serving dish made entirely of sugar to sample fudge made of Vermont maple syrup, shortbread cookies made with lavender from Mrs. Obama’s garden and cotton candy dusted with orange zest.
The square and round tables are covered in blue with clear-backed chairs, while the oblong tables have mirrored tops.
The White House florist, who studied floral artistry in Paris, created French-inspired bouquets that are meant to evoke the feeling of a painting by Monet, the French impressionist. The “deconstructed” arrangements — that means the flowers and greenery are not all in one vase but are in separate vessels — were made using quince branches, acacia leaves, white and purple iris flowers and bamboo.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)