No deal, great meal: Trump, Kim host feast in absentia

By Nguyen Chi    March 30, 2019 | 07:20 pm PT
When the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended abruptly without a deal, hotel staff got to enjoy a gourmet feast.

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, aka Metropole, a historic landmark in the capital city, was selected as the rendezvous for the second US-North Korea summit on denuclearization of Korean Peninsula in late February.

After serving the two leaders and their entourages an elaborate dinner on February 27, Metropole busied itself for a scrumptious lunch the following day, the hotel's head chef Paul Smart recalled in a talk with VnExpress. But the summit ended abruptly and U.S. President Donald Trump left Hanoi two hours earlier than planned.

Chef Paul Smart (third from left) with North Korean chefs, a female North Korean interpreter, and two supervisors.

Chef Paul Smart (third from left) with North Korean chefs, a female North Korean interpreter, and two supervisors.

Smart said the hotel was informed about two weeks in advance that it would host the summit, but final confirmation came just three days prior, and the menu was finalized just one day before the leaders’ arrival. The food testing session was done an hour before meals.

Smart and two North Korean chefs were in charge of the dinner and lunch that Trump and Kim would have.

All the dishes prepared by Kim’s crew used ingredients delivered from Pyongyang by train to the Melia Hotel, where Kim stayed during the summit, and then brought to Metropole.

There was a lot of discussion on the menu. Smart himself talked with the White House to learn Trump's preferences.

The lunch that never was

"We prepared a long table in the restaurant. The initial number was expected to be 22, and later on, just 11 people. But in the end, no one had the opportunity to enjoy these dishes. What a pity," chef Smart said. The lunch was to be had at the Metropole’s Le Club restaurant.

On the menu that day were four dishes, two prepared by Kim’s chefs, the other two by Metropole. The meal would start with foie gras made by Kim's chefs as an appetizer. They made apple jelly look like a real apple shape and stuffed foie gras in it. It wasn’t just the food itself but also how it was represented that made it special, said Smart.

The North Korean chefs spent an hour making a bird using white seaweed, pruning each feather, and adding food coloring for the final result. Smart described the dish as "a work of art".

In fact, the foie gras was the only dish that reached the table.

"None of the hotel staff, including me, had access to the restaurant area. I only cooked and was informed when to bring what dish over. When the foie gras was brought to the restaurant, we waited about an hour but did not receive notice for the second dish.

"Two hours later, the siren went off, the guards proceeded to clean up. At that moment, we realized the meal had been canceled and the two leaders had left. It was a pity that there were three more dishes that had not been brought out and they were great," the chef said.

Each decorative bird took an hour to complete from white seaweed in the froie gras dish.

Each decorative bird took an hour to complete.

The main course was prepared by the hotel chefs, using cod from the Atlantic Sea, a very cold water body rendering the fish meat sweet and soft (and expensive).

The first dessert was banoffee pie, also prepared by the hotel, the ingredients being banana mousse, salty caramel, vanilla, whipped cream and caramelized pecans.

The second and last dessert, prepared by the North Korean chefs, was candied ginseng and ginseng tea.

"I know this is a very healthy root, originating in North Korea. They made very elaborate dishes paying attention to every little detail, from green jelly, red jelly pieces to visualize the life cycle of the ginseng. It was really beautiful," Smart said.

The cancellation of lunch allowed the hotel staff to enjoy the dishes.

The appetizer foie gras was placed in the dining table for too long, comprising its quality, so it was discarded.

The ginseng candy was beautifully decorated, depicting the life cycle of ginseng.

The ginseng candy was beautifully decorated, depicting the life cycle of ginseng.

No dinner leftovers

Although the lunch on Feb 28 did not go as planned, chef Smart was very happy about the dinner going smoothly the previous night.

Smart had been asked by the White House to make a "very simple" meal, but the North Koreans wanted a more varied menu. After the two sides discussed, they agreed on making four dishes, dividing the number equally between them.

The white shrimp cocktail recommended by the White House was Trump’s favorite, using thousand island sauce and fresh shrimp. The North Korean chefs were excited to observe Smart prepare the dish, because they had never heard of it. They wanted to know how the sauce was made.

The second item was grilled beef tenderloin with kimchi, made by the Kim’s chefs. While Kim likes his meat somewhat rare, Trump likes his well done.

The kimchi brought from North Korea had already fermented for 24 to 30 days. The beef was served with pepper sauce and potatoes.

The White House chef advised the hotel to make chocolate lava cake, which Paul Smart’s restaurant is already famous for, presenting it as "freedom chocolate."

"They explained to me that when the cake is cut, the chocolate inside should flow out, like freedom. The White House also said Trump liked to eat sweets and ice cream so I added ice cream to the dessert," the chef said.

The fourth dish was made from persimmons and honey, all brought from North Korea.

"I was informed that both leaders ate everything, their plates were empty, and they didn’t drink any wine," Paul said.

Unprecedented preparation

Paul Smart, 39, has had many opportunities to cook for many VIPs who stay at the Metropole, but had never experienced such an important event like the Trump-Kim summit.

"I have cooked for presidents, prime ministers, politicians, celebrities, ambassadors ... almost every day, but in small scale. The scale of the summit was way too big, the pressure was great with the world press paying so much attention to the restaurant," he said.

When cooking, employees going in and out of the kitchen must carry a staff tag. A North Korean supervisor and an American supervisor were always on duty observing the three chefs in the kitchen and no one else but a North Korean interpreter fluent in English was allowed in.

Chef Paul Smart has cooked for many politicians and celebrities.

Chef Paul Smart has cooked for many politicians and celebrities.

Tasting the food was also a complicated process. A mock-up meal identical to the real meal served to Trump and Kim was made.

They prepared seven sets for two American testers and two North Korean testers. One sample was preserved as stated in the hotel regulations, in case any problem arose and needed to be investigated. The North Korean staff kept one sample, and the Vietnamese authorities kept the other.

Although the supervisors were very serious and cautious, they were also very friendly, hotel staff said.

Spending two days in the same kitchen, Paul Smart and the two North Korean chefs had the opportunity to make friends and learn from one another.

"Kim's chefs said that the North Korean leader is a food aficionado. He likes to try many dishes ... The chefs were very friendly, we talked constantly. They were very curious, often asked me how to make certain dishes, why I did certain things, and wanted to know the recipe.

"They had never gone abroad to interact with international chefs. They are also strict followers of hygiene procedures and carried alcohol with them to disinfect knives, forks. The 51-year-old chef had spent his entire life cooking, he was very open and we happily took pictures together," Smart said.

Smart also revealed that the hotel is doing some research and wants to sell some of the items on the Trump - Kim menu. The plan is for each restaurant under Metropole to sell a dish in the next few weeks.

The historic hotel on Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi has hosted and fed many important people for more than a hundred years. The long list includes former U.S. President Bill Clinton, many singers, actors and celebrities like Prince William, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg and Charlie Chaplin.

go to top