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Political Food for Thought

Political Food for Thought

Salute the political tickets with dishes drawn from all over the map.

Jenn Garbee | Los Angeles Times

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” wrote James Beard, but with all the political posturing and finger-pointing these final weeks on the campaign trail, it’s difficult to imagine the presidential hopefuls and their running mates agreeing even on something as bipartisan as a tub of popcorn.

Still, the American dinner table is a powerful metaphor for the national electoral process. From a richly diverse mix of regional ingredients (say, Delaware peaches or Alaskan salmon), culinary traditions (think Chicago hot dogs and invented-in- Arizona chimichangas) and individual creativity, Americans have created memorable dishes and well-developed cuisines. Chefs, restaurateurs and food writers familiar with the regions connected to the candidates found plenty of overlaps, harmonies and unifying flavors.

“This is a case where both presidential candidates have really strong roots with a distinct culinary identity,” says Michael Stern, co-author with his wife, Jane, of more than 30 books on regional roadside cuisine in America. “With the vice presidential candidates it’s more the ingredients, things like Alaskan halibut . . . and crabs from Delaware that define their regions rather than a set cuisine.”

A menu featuring dishes and recipes from regions representing all four candidates might be dangerously closer to a Las Vegas hotel buffet than a state dinner. It’d be a crazy quilt of influences and tastes: for John McCain, a duck tamale from a favorite Arizona restaurant, for example, with some Virginia ham; for Barack Obama, pirogi and pizza from Chicago alongside tropical fruits from Hawaii and spices from Indonesia; roasted game and wild blueberries from Sarah Palin’s Alaska; shoofly pie from Pennsylvania and a heritage poultry breed, the Delaware chicken, from Joe Biden’s states. But instead of chaos, culinary professionals see delicious combinations.

Gale Gand, cookbook author and executive pastry chef at Chicago’s Tru restaurant, says Chicago’s candy companies define the city for her. There are dozens — some still regional (Fannie May, the chocolate company perhaps best known for its Pixies (caramel-pecan turtles), some now national (such as Brach’s), that started there. “We have a real history of a sweet tooth in Chicago.”