On Food

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Lee Ping Quan (pronounced ‘Chew-ah-n’) served as head steward and chef for the Presidential yacht Mayflower during the Harding and Coolidge administrations. Reaching twenty years of service just before the vessel itself was retired, Quan moved to New York City. Once there he finally achieved his dream, opening his own restaurant that featured the flavor and excellence of his cooking for the Coolidges. They were his favorite First Family and he would become one of their most cherished friends. Quan was one of the few allowed in with the family to mourn over young Calvin. He would remain steadfastly loyal to the Coolidges even in retirement. It was Quan who meticulously worked on the President’s birthday cake every year. He made sure that these cakes not only made the trip to Northampton perfectly but also arrived just before dinnertime. It was also Quan who created the masterful wedding cake of John and Florence in September 1929, passing along some of the groom’s favorite recipes to the young bride. But it was also Quan who gave Florence the traditional hanfu, Chinese robes specially embroidered with blessings for the couple’s future.

Quan’s account of his years with the Coolidges was published in 1939 under the title “To A President’s Taste.” Including the recipes of several entrees, The grand opening of Quan’s restaurant met with a series of mishaps and disappointments that brought the master cook low as he trudged home that evening. Looking through his mail, however, he found one letter instantly recharged his spirits. Never one to overlook the individuals others took for granted, the former President had written to Quan:

      My dear Quan:

            Mrs. Coolidge and I wish you every success with your restaurant. We shall always remember how kind you were to us when you were on the U. S. S. Mayflower, and how well you fed us. Yours,

                      Calvin Coolidge

Armed with this letter he went back to his staff the next day and from then on they never forgot that a President had honored them with special regard for their success. It was a trust they dare not take lightly. They lived up to that confidence in their excellence. Coolidge friends and acquaintances would eat there in order to taste the legendary cuisine of the Mayflower.

Both Mrs. Jaffray and Colonel Starling have noted Calvin’s propensity for “nibbling” throughout the day. It is Quan who observed the Coolidges’ other tastes,

     “President Coolidge…liked quail very much. Mrs. Coolidge was fond of capon-capon with a stuffing of almonds. The President fancied curried veal with condiments. But I think he liked my jelly roll better than anything. For breakfast he enjoyed sausages–fine pork sausages fit for a king–with waffles. And he used to eat them with a special maple syrup sent him from Vermont in five-gallon tins…I’m sure President Coolidge preferred my jelly roll best. He had a very sweet tooth.”

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