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DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good afternoon. Thank you, Serigne, for that warm introduction, and thanks to Brent Rosen, Liz Williams, Southern Food and Beverage Museum for hosting all of us today.  Just walking in and smelling all of the different aromas is intoxicating.

To all of you — the culinary industry professionals, journalists, students, officials, Consular Corps members, others who help make New Orleans’ food culture world renowned — I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here.  You know, this isn’t really a typical Tuesday afternoon for the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.

Let me give you a little context on why I am in New Orleans.  Since the start of this Administration, our leadership team at the State Department has made it a priority to travel, not just overseas, but to U.S. cities and states.  That’s because the work we do overseas has an impact at home, and we represent you.  The work we are doing at home matters to our success around the world.  U.S. cities, states, and communities are rich in innovative ideas to help us tackle global challenges — I don’t need to mention Chef Andres and what he has done with his kitchen to help feed starving people all over the world.  It helps us to create a stronger, more innovative foreign policy.

Each of my domestic trips has been linked to a foreign policy priority.  In Cleveland, I highlighted our support for Ukraine. In Seattle, I spoke about the impact of new and emerging technologies on our changing world.

Here in New Orleans, I’ve focused on the many ways America’s diversity makes our foreign policy stronger.  I’ve just come with [Dillard] President Ford from a recruitment event at Dillard University, where I underscored the importance of building a State Department whose diversity reflects the American public we serve.  This is not just the right thing to do, though it is that.  It is also a strategic imperative.  That’s because we’re operating in a diverse world as we can see from this audience and seeing the food represented here.  America’s diversity is a source of strength that few countries can match.  We need to fully engage our whole society to deliver the best results.

Of course, food plays a part in this as well.  American food has its roots in countries around the world.  Food helps us tell our stories — who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going.  Like other arts, it allows us to express the richness of our diverse culture and history.  Food is also vital in diplomacy — a universal language, a convening authority, a meeting point to find common ground on challenging issues, a way to start and grow relationships.  It brings people together and builds bridges between them.

Since we’re here in New Orleans, I’ll share the example of my dear friend, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  Linda is a proud Louisiana native who coined the phrase “gumbo diplomacy.”  Over her 40-year career, wherever Linda was serving our country around the world, she invited people of different backgrounds or beliefs to a meal of homemade gumbo.  Diplomatic exchanges can be formal and sometimes stilted — especially when discussing points of disagreement.  But when Linda invited her contacts over for gumbo, they were able to connect on a deeper human level.  This helped them to have more substantive conversations which led to diplomatic breakthroughs.

I’ll share a story from my recent experience as well.  Last year, I traveled to several Pacific Island countries.  It is a long trip.  When I arrived in one of them, there was a propeller plane waiting to shuttle my team on a seven-minute flight to the leader’s island.  When we arrived, we were treated to an exquisite meal, as you might expect, starring wild boar, which you might not expect.  When we finished, the leader and I walked around the property, and he told me he had personally shot the boar.  Now, you don’t need to be an expert in the Pacific Islands, or wild boar, or even diplomacy to understand the message behind this extraordinary act of hospitality — that his country valued and wanted to deepen its friendship with the United States.

So you see, food can be a powerful tool in my line of work.  That’s why we at the State Department are deepening our investment in culinary diplomacy.  In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken relaunched the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership initiative with the James Beard Foundation, through which we will explore new, innovative ways to partner on food diplomacy — innovative ways to do just that.  At that event, we honored the American Culinary Corps, a network of 80 of America’s leading chefs, including New Orleans’ own Ana Castro and Meg Bickford, who I’m excited to have with us today.

We also send chefs and food experts to U.S. embassies around the world on exchange programs.  They increase awareness of U.S. culture, support our international relationships, and use food as an entrée to discuss a wide range of policy priorities, from climate change to entrepreneurship.  This winter, we sent a Bronx-based culinary collective to Liberia, where they highlighted the soul food traditions of our respective countries to build bridges while promoting inclusive economic growth in the restaurant industry.

The chefs here with us are culinary diplomats in their own right.  I will introduce them individually in a moment, but I first want to talk about what they represent as a group.  These chefs contribute to this city’s — and by extension our country’s — rich culinary diversity.  Collectively, their culinary expertise spans the globe and incorporates flavors and techniques ranging from Copenhagen kitchens to Southeast Asian markets to West African homes to the Creole traditions of this city.  They are a microcosm of American food culture, whose ingredients include creativity, sophistication, fun, and flair.

So I want to thank them and all of you for being here today.  As you enjoy the delicious food these star chefs are cooking up, I hope you’ll meet some new people and spark new ideas.  Whether you are a seasoned professional or just starting out, I hope you’ll think of ways you can use food to build bridges in your community and in our world.

So, let’s introduce briefly the stars of the hour and then go eat.

Chef Byron Bradley.  Chef Bradley is a New Orleans native who is passionate about Creole and Caribbean food.  Using the Haitian Creole idea of ‘Fon,’ meaning ‘deep,’ he specializes in curating unique dining experiences at residences in the French Quarter involving food, music and art.  Thank you for joining us, Chef Byron.

Chef Roni Dacula.  Chef Dacula immigrated from the Philippines and initially studied nursing.  But he loved cooking more.  He opened the Filipino pop-up Gatâ, named for the Tagalog word for ‘coconut milk.’  He wants people to connect to Filipino food beyond the well-known classics.  Thank you for joining us, Chef Roni.

Now a member of our American Culinary Corps, Chef Ana Castro.  Her restaurant, Lengua Madre, blends flavors from the places that inspire her: her Abuela’s kitchen in Mexico City, her travels in Japan, work in Denmark, and of course the city of New Orleans.  She recently became a 2023 James Beard finalist for Best Chef South.  Thank you for joining us, Chef Ana.

Chef Dee Lavigne.  Chef Dee is a chef, baker, educator, and TV cooking show host.  She has always seen New Orleans cooking and traditions as a calling and is one of the city’s preeminent culinary ambassadors.  At her cooking school, she leads students on journeys through New Orleans’ culinary history.  Thank you for joining us, Chef Dee.

You’ve met Chef Serigne Mbaye who was born in the United States and raised mostly in Senegal.  He blends Senegalese and Harlem and Creole culinary traditions to reflect the regions’ intertwined histories.  Last month, he was nominated as a 2023 James Beard emerging chef finalist.  Thank you for joining us, Chef Serigne.

And then last but not least, Chef Nini Nguyen is chef, instructor, and recipe developer.  Nini combines her Vietnamese heritage and New Orleans flair into a unique cooking style.  For her, food is not just how we communicate care, it’s how we understand who someone is.  Thank you for joining us, Chef Nini.

Two things.  Our Senegalese brother told us that he observes Ramadan, and so he can’t eat his own cooking today.  And I am still observing Passover, there are some things I can eat and some things I cannot, but I will have my colleagues eat the things I cannot, so they can eat twice and tell me what I missed.

Now I get to say something I’ve always wanted to say from years of watching cooking shows.  I watch them.  I’m a terrible cook.  My daughter, however, is a fabulous cook. I don’t know where she got it, but she’s creative, imaginative, and she would die to be here.

So, Chefs, to your stations!  Lunch is served.

U.S. Department of State

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