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Republican and Democrat presidents can agree on one thing: cheeseburgers!

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev (L) eat cheeseburgers at Ray's Hell Burger June 24, 2010, in Arlington, Virgina. (Photo by Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty Images)

Before he went vegan, President Bill Clinton was famous for his love of jalapeno cheeseburgers. President Barack Obama was photographed enjoying a burger so many times, the Washington Post published an article in 2014 titled, “President Obama and Cheeseburgers: A Love Story.” And fast food loving President Donald Trump has been photographed eating a McDonald’s burger on Air Force One.

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The White House Historical Association recently published a new cookbook, Recipes From the President’s Ranch, written by Matthew Wendel, the chef who cooked for President George W. Bush and his family at Camp David, and at their Crawford Texas ranch for more than his eight years in office. Wendel says one of the meals he made most, at the family’s request, was cheeseburgers.

“Mrs. Bush had a very specific way she liked them,” Wendel said. “She liked the patty very thin and cooked medium with very sharp cheddar cheese on top. A whole wheat bun that is toasted — spread the butter on the bun and toast it. And all your lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles.”

But the secret ingredient, the thing that gave the burgers their signature Texas touch, was barbecue sauce.

“She liked a smoky cheeseburger,” Wendel said. “But instead of putting the barbecue sauce on the burger, and making it messy to eat, I decided to try the barbecue sauce mixed into the meat. That way you could get that good, smoky, barbecue flavor without having the mess of the barbecue sauce running down your fingers. That’s important, especially if you’re a world leader and you don’t want to seem messy when you eat and you’re discussing world problems with the other leaders.”

These burgers weren’t just served at family meals. President Bush insisted they be served at lunches with foreign dignitaries and world leaders to create a casual, homey atmosphere.

“I served them a lot at Camp David because they just meant home to them, and we started serving them to world leaders who would visit for lunch,” Wendel said. “Back during the administration, [Japan’s] President Abe came to visit the president at the White House and they bonded over cheeseburgers. There was an AP reporter in Tokyo who wrote this article called ‘Cheeseburger Diplomacy’ and he talked about how the two men bonded over a meal of American cheeseburgers. Prime Minister Abe was impressed that such a simple meal could bring them together. So we started having them for lunch for all our visitors because, in some way, they expected to have a cheeseburger. We can have our feet under the same table, enjoy the same meal, and get some diplomacy done.”

An Eater article reported that during diplomacy visits to Japan, Prime Minister Abe and President Trump also ate cheeseburgers together, once in 2017, and again in 2019 after playing golf.

This is an excerpt from Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast Your Last Meal. Click here to listen to the whole episode and follow along on Instagram.

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