Flowers and friendship at Tuesday's White House State Dinner for PM Lee Hsien Loong

Executive pastry chef Susie Morrison with her desserts for the state dinner. Called "A Festive Gathering", the desserts have a motif of orchids and roses.
Executive pastry chef Susie Morrison with her desserts for the state dinner. Called "A Festive Gathering", the desserts have a motif of orchids and roses.ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM

PM Lee will be first South-east Asian leader to be given this honour by Obama

A burst of yellow orchids and roses, symbolising friendship, will welcome Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife at the White House State Dinner on Tuesday - marking the 13th state dinner or official visit of the Obama administration and the first held in honour of a South-east Asian leader.

Hosted by President Barack Obama and Mrs Michelle Obama, the event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the US.

"State visits and state dinners are an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm our ties and our friendship with America's most important and closest partners around the world and Singapore, clearly, is one of our strongest, closest and most reliable partners," said Mr Dan Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

Leaders from only four Asian countries - China, Japan, South Korea and India - have been given this honour under the Obama administration. "Prime Minister Lee's visit clearly reflects the vitally important role that Singapore plays in the (US) rebalance to the Asia-Pacific," said Mr Kritenbrink.

During the visit, Mr Kritenbrink said, the two leaders will highlight the economic and strategic importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, demonstrate their close cooperation on issues such as law enforcement, cyber security, global health, maritime security and combating climate change, and discuss ways to "further grow our strong defence relationship and further strengthen our close ties between our two people".

Introducing the menu for the evening, White House executive chef Cris Comerford said she incorporated many Asian ingredients in the evening's fare.

"We used green papaya, chillies, lemongrass, ginger, palm sugar, coconut milk, wonderful fruits like soursop. The pandan is one of my favourite... so I was able to use a lot of different varieties of Singaporean ingredients in this menu," she said at a media preview.

The first course will be a Maryland blue crab salad, which the chef says is a more summery play on Singapore's chilli crab, followed by a salad featuring heirloom tomatoes and lime basil from the White House Kitchen Garden.

American Wagyu beef tenderloin will be served as the main course, drizzled with a lemongrass demi-glace sauce.

The show-stopper, however, is likely to be the dessert course called "A Festive Gathering", where the motif of roses and orchids will once again make an appearance.

Executive pastry chef Susie Morrison said 2,500 sugar petals were used in the 20 handmade displays - honouring flowers from both the US and Singapore - and will be served to every table with an assortment of pastries. There will also be a separate course of peach sangria cake.

About 200 guests are expected to attend the sit-down dinner in the East Room, followed by a performance in the State Dining Room by American singer-songwriter Chrisette Michele.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Flowers and friendship at Tuesday's state dinner'. Print Edition | Subscribe