Profs and Pints presents: “Food and Diplomacy: An Ambassador’s Perspective,” with Martin Dahinden, Swiss Ambassador to the United States, veteran diplomat, and author of Beyond Muesli and Fondue: The Swiss Contribution to Culinary History.
Lord Palmerstone, the legendary British prime minister and three-time foreign minister, famously said that “Dining is the life and soul of diplomacy.” He didn’t mean that diplomacy is all about eating, rather that diplomats are hard at work even while dining, because official dinners and cocktail receptions allow diplomats to exchange information and opinions more freely than they can at conferences or meetings. Great diplomats of history, such as Talleyrand and Metternich, were masters at using the convivial setting of mealtime to pursue political objectives.
The distinguished guests are not the only communicators at an official dinner: the menu itself conveys important messages. Through choices of ingredients, dishes, and presentation, states and institutions can portray themselves as they’d like their counterparts to see them. History holds many examples of how leaders — and the chefs working for them — have shaped narratives with food. An improvised dish, supposedly prepared for Napoleon after a decisive victory, became an instant favorite of the French Emperor and made its way into the canon of French haute cuisine. A darker example can be found in the Sun King’s personal chef, who threw himself on his sword when the fish he’d ordered for a banquet didn’t arrive on time.
Culinary diplomacy is also practiced on a daily basis in Washington, D.C. Among the questions meal planners ask: Should official menus consist of traditional staples, little-known dishes, or the latest culinary trends? How can a dinner send the right messages to its intended audience?
Hear Ambassador Dahinden, who will join the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zurich in 2020, explain how he has researched centuries of anecdotes about dishes, chefs, bakers, and gastronomes, to prepare a strategy for portraying his country through food. (Advance tickets: $12. Doors: $15, save $2 with a student ID.)