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HAIL TO THE CHEF - THE EXECUTIVE CHEF

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Like his new boss, Walter S. Scheib III always knew he wanted to work in the White House.

But not in the Oval Office.In the kitchen.

``Being the executive chef at the White House was one of his goals,' said Brian O'Neil, who worked under Scheib at the Boca Raton (Fla.) Resort and Club. ``He was very stoic, not much of a talker, but he used to be a chef in Washington and maybe he got the White House bug.'

Scheib, 39, realized his dream two weeks ago when he was picked from a pool of more than 4,000 applicants to succeed Pierre Chambrin as first chef.

The Clintons have tried to Americanize the White House kitchen since they moved in. During the Reagan and Bush administrations, White House menus were printed in French; now they are in English.

Replacing the French-trained Chambrin with Scheib, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America, continues the culinary transition.

Scheib shepherded through a similar change when he came to Boca Raton in 1986.

``Under his direction, we moved further toward American cuisine,' O'Neil said. ``Our main dining room, The Top of the Tower, had been a French restaurant, and it became an American restaurant.'

Scheib worked at the Boca Raton resort until 1990, then went to Washington as executive chef at the Capital Hilton.

He moved to the five-star Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., in 1991, where he experimented with low-fat cooking, another Clinton priority.

``While Chef Scheib was here, we created our Greenbrier light cuisine,' said Pam Ritchie, the hotel's public relations manager. ``We added light appetizers and light entrees to go with the American regional cuisine we always served.'

Scheib won the White House job after a grueling review process overseen by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Applicants first had to impress the so-called ``Kitchen Cabinet': Anne Rosenzweig of Arcadia and Larry Forgione of An American Place, both New York restaurant chefs, and John Sneddon of Rockland's Barbecue and Grilling Co. in Washington.

About six finalists were interviewed, said Neel Lattimore, deputy press secretary to the first lady.

Then came the audition. Scheib's flexibility and flair for Americana put him over the top.

``He does not have one style he's known for, but he has a reputation for incorporating regional cuisine into his repertoire,' Lattimore said. ``When visitors come to this country, they should be treated to the best of our cuisine.'

As a hotel executive chef, Scheib mostly designed menus and managed underlings, but at the White House, he will do more cooking.

He and his three-person staff will handle everything from daily meals for the Clintons to state dinners for up to 130 people. Last year, more than 60,000 people were entertained at the White House.

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