The Catholic University of America

 

Chris and Amanda Pilkerton pose under a portrait of the late renowned chef James Beard, whose
fictitious meal with a titan of the U.S. Senate forms the core of their new novel of fine dining and public policy.


 

Public Policy on a Plate - A Meal that (Might) Have Changed America

 

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It is an axiom of Washington that some of the biggest deals and decisions happen over a good meal, a glass of scotch, a cigar.
 
Perhaps less true these days, the image is nonetheless beguiling enough to have prompted Columbus School of Law alumnus Christopher Pilkerton, 1999, to take the basic idea and move it in a new and wholly unexpected direction.

Pilkerton, who served as assistant director of the law school’s Law and Public Policy Program from 2007-2011 and is currently an entrepreneur and Of Counsel at Butzel Long Tighe Patton, is the author of a creatively imagined new book that can only be described as …well, novel.
 
Courses: A Menu for Public Policy with Chef James Beard and Senator J. William Fulbright  is the fictitious story of a long meal shared by two accomplished men from quite different worlds: the late renowned American chef James Beard, and Senator  J. William Fulbright, a hugely influential legislator who represented Arkansas from 1945-1975, supported the creation of the United Nations, and was the father of the Fulbright Scholars Program known to academics throughout the world.
 
The book attempts to teach the lesson of how to implement public policy via the story format of a dinner between two celebrities from the world of food and politics. Set in a fictional bistro in Washington, the reader is taken through an imagined multicourse meal shared by Beard and Fulbright. 
 
It is a novel about analogies.  During their meal, Fulbright tutors Beard about what he must do in order to create an international exchange program for chefs. Spotting a parallel, Beard responds that Fulbright’s advice  also applies to the steps involved in the preparation of food.
 
For example, the making and selling of a wine is not so different from the salesmanship required for successful lobbying. Or, the effectiveness of using statistical data in policy arguments can be compared to the need for  exact measurements required for a successful chocolate soufflé.
 
“The reason I wrote the book is that while teaching at CUA Law, with the help of the excellent library staff, I was able to determine that there were no truly practical guides to implementing policy as most books concentrated more on the academic,” says Pilkerton.
 
  

The selection of Beard (left) and Fulbright (right), highly unlikely dining companions when they were alive, had much to do with personal connections.
 
“The reason I chose the characters were first, that I completed a Fulbright grant as a professor at CUA Law in 2010,” explains Pilkerton, “and second, my wife received a James Beard Finalist nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef in that same year.  I have come to know a great deal about both men.”
 
The experience became even more gratifying when Senator Fulbright's wife, Harriet, agreed to write the foreword for the book. The book’s unusual premise has also sparked interest within the James Beard Foundation, which is now working with the State Department in a sort of chef diplomacy program.

“We are hopeful that this can be coordinated with the book,” says Pilkerton.
 
“Courses” offer readers not only an intriguing work of imagination, but sophisticated recipes created by Pilkerton’s wife, Amanda, who also took the photos for the book.
 
Pilkerton’s novel of the pairing of policy and paté has already earned an influential endorsement: the story has been flagged by Ris, the restaurant at the Ritz Hotel in Washington, as an upcoming selection for its “Book of the month.” The restaurant’s owner, Chef Ris Lacoste, plans to hold a signing party in its honor sometime in the spring.