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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
The culinary United Nations

By Hugh Schofield
In Paris

Chefs of the CCC throw their hats into the air
The CCC's motto is: "Politics divides men, but a good meal unites them"
If it is true that you are what you eat, then the group of men and women gathered this week in Paris is uniquely placed to shape the destiny of the world.

The Club des Chefs des Chefs d'Etat (CCC for short) brings together the people who cook for the people who count.

From the White House comes Walter Scheib, menu-master for US President George W Bush and current CCC chairman.

From the kitchens of the Elysee Palace there is Joel Normand, chef to French presidents since the 1960s.

This week saw the induction of a new British member, Mark Flanagan, who took over recently as head cook for Queen Elizabeth.

And some 40 other members cater for heads of state in countries from India to Ireland, from Spain to South Africa.

Unity through food

Every year for more than a quarter of a century, this elite gastronomic brotherhood has met to swap anecdotes, trade recipes and reflect together on life at the top table.

I have had aides of previous presidents tell me: 'Thanks to you, chef, we managed to conclude the signing of a treaty'
French presidential chef Joel Normand
"Presidents and kings come and go - but the chefs stay," said Gilles Bragard, the French couturier who founded the CCC in 1977 and who has attended every meeting since.

An internationally-renowned designer of chef's blousons, Mr Bragard realised that he was in a unique position to bring together the top state chefs into a kind of culinary United Nations.

Convinced of the important role played by the club's potential members, he devised the motto: "Politics divides men, but a good meal unites them," and the CCC was formed.

"Let's be honest, many high-level meetings between world leaders can be pretty tense affairs," he said.

"A good meal plays an important part in bringing them together."

Joel Normand, who has served every French president since Charles de Gaulle, concurred.

"I have had aides of previous presidents tell me: 'Thanks to you, chef, we managed to conclude the signing of a treaty'."

Diplomacy and discretion

Since time immemorial cooks have had privileged access at the court of worldly power and the collected eavesdroppings of the Club des Chefs des Chefs would make illuminating reading.

French President Jacques Chirac
Rumours that Chirac wanted more hamburgers proved false
But apart from their prowess at the pan, the main attributes of club members are diplomacy and discretion.

The only nugget revealed by Walter Scheib to reporters this week is that President Bush kept French fries on the menu throughout the Franco-US rift over Iraq.

Club members speak to each other on the occasion of state visits to explain their bosses' dietary preferences, but the annual get-together is a chance for more detailed comparisons as well as for relaxation.

This week they have travelled to Cognac for a tasting of Remy Martin, to the food wholesale market at Rungis outside Paris and to Champagne.

They have also been received by Bernadette Chirac, wife of the French president, at the Elysee Palace.

Food rage

The only fly in the soup was an incident on Wednesday involving - oddly - a Bernadette Chirac double.

The French "candid camera" programme "On a tout essaye", meaning "We've tried everything", sent an actress to the Plaza Athenee hotel where the CCC was meeting, with the task of inviting Walter Scheib to come to work at the Elysee.

Convincingly made up to resemble Bernadette, she told the White House cook that her husband was fed up with French food and wanted more hamburgers.

According to Le Parisien newspaper, Scheib fell for the con and responded enthusiastically before bursting into a fit of rage when he saw he had been set up.

The White House was contacted and a diplomatic incident only narrowly averted.

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