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U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stand with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur before a state dinner at the White House in Washington. (JASON REED/JASON REED/REUTERS)
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stand with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur before a state dinner at the White House in Washington. (JASON REED/JASON REED/REUTERS)

State dinner for India a green affair Add to ...

In a green affair featuring locally grown food and held on the White House lawn, U.S President Barack Obama welcomed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his first official state dinner Tuesday night.

The black-tie gala was seen as an important gesture of co-operation between the two countries.

It was held under a tent on the South Lawn of the White House, in keeping with a theme of "the Obamas' dedication to green and sustainable elements," according to an official White House summary.

The food included vegetables grown in the White House garden; a meatless entree to satisfy Mr. Singh, a vegetarian; and gift bags that included a jar of honey from White House beehives. Locally grown magnolias lined the dinner tent.


In welcoming the crowd to his first state dinner as President, Mr. Obama praised the relationship between India and the United States, the world's two largest democracies.

"Tonight, under the stars, we celebrate the spirit that will sustain our partnership, the bond of friendship between our people," he told the crowd. He credited a "movement led by giants like Gandhi and King, which are the reason both of us can stand here tonight."

Mr. Singh pledged continued co-operation between the countries and heaped praise on Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. "You do us and the people of India great honour by this wonderful gesture on your part," he said of being selected for the first state dinner.

"We are overwhelmed by the warmth of your hospitality, the courtesy you have extended to us personally, and the grace and charm of the first lady," Mr. Singh said. "You are an inspiration to all those who cherish the values of democracy, diversity, and equal opportunity."

After brief speeches, Mr. Obama thanked the crowd and Mr. Singh, to whom he quietly said, smiling: "Finally you can sit down and eat."


The five-course meal was prepared by Marcus Samuelsson, an award-winning chef who has apprenticed across Europe and the United States and was named one of "The Great Chefs of America" by the Culinary Institute of America.

The meal began with potato and eggplant salad and White House arugula, and added a red lentil soup soon after.

A choice of entrees included roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chick peas and okra, or a meal of green curry prawns.

In a nod to the upcoming American Thanksgiving, a pumpkin pie tart was among a number of dessert courses.

Ms. Obama worked with Mr. Samuelsson and White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford to develop "a menu that reflects the best of American cuisine, continues this White House's commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food, and honours the culinary excellence and flavours that are present in Indian cuisine."

The desserts were garnished with mint and lemon verbena grown in the White House garden.


While Mr. Singh's wife, Gursharan Kaur, wore a traditional Indian sari, Ms. Obama's golden, strapless gown also had an Indian flavour.

Naeem Khan, who designed Ms. Obama's dress, said the gown took three weeks of work by about 40 people to make. It was made in India.

"It's so beautiful, totally handmade," Mr. Khan told CNN.

In addition to the silver-sequined gown, Ms. Obama wore a matching wrap, a stack of bangle bracelets on her wrist and dangling earrings.

"I think she looks fabulous," said Mary Tomer, author of the new book Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy . "She walked out in something that's figure-flattering and chic. Naeem's work is known for glamour and embellishment and this dress seems to embody that. She's sparkling and radiant."

Mr. Obama stuck to a classic tuxedo.

"I often feel Obama's suits are too big on him, but I think he got a new tux," said Hal Rubenstein, fashion director for InStyle magazine.


The list of 320 invitees included political heavyweights, Hollywood moguls and Indo-American leaders.

Vice-President Joe Biden, Senator John Kerry, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a cast of Democrats joining the President. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana were among the Republicans invited to attend. CBS host Katie Couric, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times and CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta were among the media figures attending. Directors Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan were the biggest Hollywood names, with Deepak Chopra among the Indo-American attendees.


The night featured a number of performances, including those by Oscar-winning songstress Jennifer Hudson, eight-time Grammy nominated jazz singer Kurt Elling and the National Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Elling hails from Chicago, the home city of the Obamas. The evening included a performance by Indian star A.R. Rahman, a composer, record producer, musician and singer best known in North America as the composer of Slumdog Millionaire song Jai Ho .

In keeping with custom, it also included a performance by The President's Own United States Marine Band, which dates back to 1798.

With a report from The Associated Press

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