"I think D.C. is probably one of the biggest and fastest-growing culinary scenes in America," Isabella said. "It was a steakhouse town 10 years ago. Nowadays it's all about living in the city and being a part of the growth."
In the 1980s, Smith said he visited the Reagan White House when it was party central. The Reagans loved entertaining, he said, but all the cooking was French.
"America had not really discovered or embraced its food to say 'We are America. We are about our food. We are about this wonderful melting pot of people who have all come together and created this amazing culture,'" Smith said.
In the past 20 years, tastes have changed. As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced American cooking, and Laura Bush brought Tex-Mex to the White House, Smith said. The Obamas have gone a step further to foster more conversation about fresh ingredients.
Isabella, who joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's inaugural American Chefs Corps last year to use food as a tool for diplomacy, credits the Obama administration with changing attitudes around food.
"I think they're the first to really indulge into the whole culinary scene, putting chef programs together for schools and kids, dining in restaurants around the city and really believing in food and farm-to-table," he said. "It's been a huge, huge help for us."
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