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Four secretaries convene to celebrate State’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Four secretaries convene to celebrate State’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton all shared the stage last night for a reception to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the diplomatic reception rooms on the 8th floor of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters. The night turned into a comedy event.

“I was asked to make some remarks about experiences in these rooms, which would be a tremendous achievement. These rooms didn’t exist when I was here,” said Kissinger, the first secretary to speak.

“Any secretary of state is lucky enough to be able to deal every day with the problems of how to take the world community to where we want it to be and to know there’s nothing more important that he or she can do than what he or she is doing,” Kissinger said.

“And they are lucky enough to be surrounded by the A-list, most dedicated and committed group of public servants that one can possible meet, who keep one on one’s toes, because you know that in their heart of hearts they believe you probably might not have been able to pass the Foreign Service exam,” he said to laughter from the crowd of diplomats, officials and donors.

Albright told a story about a dinner she hosted in the Benjamin Franklin ballroom, where she served a meal based on a dinner served by President Harry Truman to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. One guest asked Albright “Why exactly are we having Jello and Triskets?” Albright remembered.

Albright also recounted how she recently ran into former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a train, and Rumsfeld asked her if the State Department still houses Thomas Jefferson’s desk, which was on prominent display last night and was also the model for one of the cakes served at the event.

“It’s one of the things, frankly, that the Defense Department is jealous of at the State Department,” Albright said.

Powell said he had wanted to use the diplomatic reception rooms for high-level meetings, but he “discovered that those wonderful, magnificent 18th century couches and chairs were the most uncomfortable things imaginable.”

“I had this image of some rather overweight European foreign minister sitting in one of them and the bloody thing collapsing and I would have to pay $100,000,” Powell said.

A Benjamin Franklin impersonator made a speech as various Founding Father impersonators in period costume spread throughout the crowd, making small talk with guests. Diplomats and officials mingled with donors from the Patrons of Diplomacy Endowment campaign, a $20 million private donation effort that has helped refurbish the diplomatic rooms and renovate the 8th floor terrace at State.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres was brought in to cater the posh event. He put together an intricate menu developed around the theme of Americana. The first course was Waldorf salad, chosen because the Waldolf-Astoria hotel is where the secretary of state holds court during the U.N. General Assembly. That was followed by 36-hour braised beef in a red wine demi-glace, served with a La Serena potato and pickled baby carrots. That dish was inspired by the 1961 menu when Secretary of State Dean Rusk hosted the prime minister of China.

The desert was pecan pie with vanilla Chantilly cream, pecan caramel syrup, and candied pecans. Pecans were a favorite of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, according to the event’s program. Everyone drank Albemarle Pippin cider, apparently a favorite of both Franklin and Jefferson. Cabernet sauvignon from the Brotherhood winery, America’s oldest, was also served.

Actor Michael Douglas was in the crowd, as well as several members of the diplomatic elite, including ambassadors from Great Britain, China, Mexico, and Lichtenstein. State Department officials in attendance included Undersecretary Bob Hormats, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary Maria Otero, and Assistant Secretary Bob Blake. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, was also there.

“If you’re dealing with health care as I can attest from experience, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan — they seem easy in comparison,” Clinton said. “But we are delighted Kathleen could join us, and, of course, she has the best seat in the house some would argue, sitting next to Michael Douglas, who’s been either referenced or introduced about five times.”