WASHINGTON – The first state dinner of President Barack Obama’s final year honors Canada and its newest sensation named Justin: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The nation that produced singer Justin Bieber now also claims the dashing Liberal leader of Canada’s government, the boyish-looking, 44-year-old son of a former Canadian prime minister. Thursday’s dinner for America’s northern neighbor is the first by the White House in nearly 20 years. The last official visit to the U.S. by Canada’s leader was in April 1997.
“It’s about time, eh?” Obama said, playing up the American stereotype of a Canadian colloquialism in remarks welcoming Trudeau to the White House.
Just under 200 guests sporting tuxedos and designer gowns are expected at the glitzy state dinner. Tables were being set in the White House East Room, which will be transformed by the addition of rows of blooming orchids, hydrangeas and amaranth in shades of green and white meant to evoke the coming of spring, much like Trudeau’s election in October has ushered in a new season in Canadian politics.
The guest list featured a hefty dose of Canadian star power provided by actors Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Sandra Oh and Ryan Reynolds, along with “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels. Professional sports were represented by the U.S. hockey and basketball commissioners, along with retired NBA player Grant Hill and his wife, Tamia, a Canadian singer. A small group of Democratic U.S. senators planned to attend, joined by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah.
The menu was also designed with spring in mind: halibut casserole with spring vegetables, salad with apricots roasted in ginger, cardamom and White House honey, and herb-crusted Colorado lamb drizzled with a Canadian whiskey sauce.
The dessert course is cake made with toasted Texas pecans and New England maple syrup, along with a separate hand-crafted sugar sculpture inspired by the Rocky Mountains and bearing an assortment of petite pastries with American and Canadian influences.
Sara Bareilles, a favorite of first lady Michelle Obama and known for her hit, “Love Song,” is headlining the after-dinner entertainment.
Trudeau, who was accompanied to the U.S. by his wife, Sophie Gregoire, and their three young children, took office in November and carries one of the most famous names in Canadian political history. His late father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister for the better part of 16 years, between 1968 and 1984, and remains the rare Canadian politician who is recognized in America.
Obama, 54, and Trudeau traded light-hearted barbs earlier Thursday over a source of national pride for Canadians: hockey.
“Where’s the Stanley Cup right now?” Obama joked, before providing the answer. His hometown Chicago Blackhawks won the National Hockey League’s championship trophy last season.
Trudeau tried to match Obama’s trash talk, noting that three of the Blackhawks’ best players are from Canada.
If Obama had his way — and he’s president, so technically he can — the Stanley Cup could be part of the state dinner decor. The Blackhawks brought it to the East Room last month when Obama recognized the team for winning its third NHL title in six years. “We’ve got a state dinner with Canada coming up, so we may just leave it right in the middle of the room,” Obama said.
The Stanley Cup was at the State Department on Thursday afternoon at a lunch there for Trudeau. Stay tuned.