President Joe Biden and the first lady Dr. Jill Biden is set to fête Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday night at the White House, which is hosting a lavish, tented state dinner with a plant-based menu for their guest. honor, being a vegetarian.
For President Biden, a notoriously picky eater, the stuffed portobello mushroom main course was a thoughtful diplomatic gesture for his guest. Biden’s willingness to eat his vegetables as he hosts Modi is a signal of the importance he places on developing US-India relations, a key aspect of his Asia strategy, despite Modi’s track record on human rights and drifting into authoritarianism.
In return, Modi agreed to participate in a one-on-one joint press engagement with Biden after their meetings – the culmination of long, delicate negotiations between the two sides. While not exactly the same, the two moves indicate that they are both willing to give a little.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come under scrutiny from rights groups and opposition lawmakers for its increasingly strict brand of Hindu nationalist politics and continued crackdown on dissent. Ahead of the visit, a group of more than 70 lawmakers wrote a letter to Biden urging him to raise human rights concerns during the visit, something officials at White House to be done by the president.
Modi’s visit began on Wednesday as Jill Biden welcomed him to the US National Science Foundation in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, for a conversation on workforce development, an area where the two countries plans to expand cooperation.
“On this official visit, we are bringing together the world’s oldest and largest democracy,” Biden told his guest during the panel discussion, noting the “deep and broad” partnership between the US and India.
Modi, in turn, praised the first lady: “Your life, your hard work, and your achievements are a source of inspiration to all,” he said, through a translator.
Later in the evening, the Bidens hosted Modi for a private dinner, where they presented the prime minister with an antique book galley, a vintage American camera, and a signed, first edition copy of “Collected Poems of Robert Frost.”
Thursday’s events will begin with the formal pomp and circumstance of the official arrival ceremony at the White House, which will include a military review, a performance of the national anthems of both countries and remarks from both heads of state. Biden and Modi will then retreat to the Oval Office for bilateral meetings before their press availability.
Later in the evening, approximately 400 guests will begin arriving for the glitzy, black tie state dinner, the result of weeks of meticulous planning by the White House social team, the East Wing and the State Department, weaving together elements and traditions of American and Indian culture. to the decor, entertainment, and menu.
The dinner will be held in a “translucent pavilion structure,” per the first lady’s office, with views of the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument, as well as herbs and saffron that honor the Indian flag. Biden and Modi will give toasts with a backdrop nodding to the two national birds: The bald eagle and the peacock, respectively.
The peacock, White House social secretary Carlos Elizondo said, also served as inspiration for much of the design.
“We want it to evoke awe-inspiring feelings when it extends its tail, revealing its colorful beauty, majesty, and spirit,” he said.
The tables will be set with dark green and pale blue linens decorated with bright pink and orange flowers, candles, and lotus flower symbols, designed by the White House team in conjunction with David Stark Design and Production.
“Each table setting is warm and unique. We hope guests feel as if someone has set their table just for them — because we have,” Biden said in a preview of the dinner.
Elizondo told reporters that Jill Biden wanted to make Thursday’s big event more intimate: “She was involved in this event every step of the way, and every element of the dinner and decoration was chosen to make it personal and every guest is warm. .”
Entertainment will be provided by Grammy Award-winning violinst Joshua Bell, the University of Pennsylvania’s “Penn Masala” South Asian student a cappella group, and “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band Chamber Orchestra.
Guest chef Nina Curtis, a plant-based chef from Sacramento, California, worked closely with White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, and White House Executive Pastry Chef Susie Morrison to develop the menu.
“We’ve created a menu that really showcases the best of American cuisine seasoned with Indian elements and flavors,” Curtis told reporters, adding that the food will allow guests from both countries ” to experience something of another’s culture.”
Guests dine on a first course of marinated millet and grilled corn with compressed watermelon and a tangy avocado sauce. The main course is stuffed portobello mushrooms with saffron-infused risotto. And dessert will be a rose and cardamom-infused strawberry shortcake.
For dinner guests looking for a non-vegetarian option, a main course of sumac-roasted sea bass is available upon request. Asked if her husband would choose fish, the first lady laughed.
“We’ll see,” he said.