WASHINGTON - The White House will turn a heated tent on its frigid South Lawn into a Monet-inspired gala fit for a French president on Tuesday, the highlight of a two-day state visit to Washington by Francois Hollande.
President Barack Obama invited Hollande for the state visit to highlight the long relationship between the two countries. The two leaders have worked together on responding to Iran's nuclear programme, Syria's civil war and insurgent attacks in Mali.
"France is really a key partner in the principal security challenges that we're currently confronting," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.
After the leaders meet on Tuesday, the White House has invited about 350 guests to a state dinner honoring Hollande. It is only the seventh such gala hosted by Obama and his wife Michelle since they moved into the White House in 2009.
Guests will meet the Obamas and Hollande in the Blue Room, decorated with Parisian-made gilded sofas and chairs ordered for the room in 1817 by then-President James Monroe. "Paris was the centre of high-style culture," White House curator Bill Allman told reporters.
Guests will take small trolleys across the South Lawn to the tent, which will be transformed into a spring-like scene inspired by Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings, with quince branches in full bloom, irises, blue agapanthus and lilies.
The White House kept the guest list under wraps, along with who will sit at the head table, but revealed that soul singer Mary J. Blige will perform after the dinner.
The first course will feature caviar harvested from Illinois streams, Pennsylvania quail eggs, and 12 varieties of potatoes, the White House said.
The salad, served in a terrarium-like bowl, includes herbs from the White House kitchen garden, and honey from the White House beehive.
Dry-aged ribeye beef from a farm in Greeley, Colorado, will highlight the main course.
For dessert: Hawaiian chocolate-malted ganache, fudge made from Vermont maple syrup, and puffs of cotton candy dusted with orange zest.