WASHINGTON >> The official state china of President Barack Obama’s administration is a modern-inspired service trimmed in a blue that recalls the waters of his native state of Hawaii, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be among the first guests to eat from it at a state dinner Tuesday in his honor.
Michelle Obama’s office said the first lady chose what’s been dubbed "Kailua Blue" to distinguish her family’s china from the red, green, blue and yellow used on more recent state services. Kailua is the upscale bedroom community of Honolulu where Obama and his family spend Christmas vacation.
William Allman, the White House curator, said the "modern and fresh" blue had never been used on White House china.
"Mrs. Obama’s main goal was to create a modern service that is completely compatible and interchangeable and usable with all the historic china services" that are used for official entertaining, Allman said Monday during a preview of the Japanese state dinner.
A fluted band of Kailua Blue, framed by a textured gold rim and a simple gold inner line, appears on all pieces of the service, except for the dinner and serving plates. The solid white dinner plates are edged in gold; the service plates have a wide gold rim and the presidential coat of arms at the center.
Each 11-piece setting includes a first for presidential tableware — an individual tureen that can be used for soup, dessert or "any other dish that the chefs get creative and decide they would like to serve with a little panache in an individual serving size," Allman said.
The china, which has settings for 320 people, cost approximately $367,000. It was paid for from a private fund that is administered by the White House Historical Association and used to acquire fine and decorative arts for the presidential mansion.
A 320-person state china service that then-first lady Laura Bush unveiled in January 2009 cost just under $493,000.
The approximately 200 people invited for Tuesday’s dinner in the East Room will be among the first guests to eat from the new china. The menu features Caesar sashimi salad presented in the style of a Japanese gift, Wagyu beef and an American-style cheesecake made using tofu and soymilk.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige and his wife are among the guests.
Obama will toast Abe with sake before the dinner.
Guest chef Masaharu Morimoto, of TV’s "Iron Chef" fame, worked with the White House culinary team to produce a state dinner that fuses American and Japanese influences.
Morimoto was a natural choice as guest chef for the Obamas. His restaurant on Oahu is a favorite dining spot when the Obamas are on vacation in Hawaii. The chef tweeted a photo of himself working side-by-side with White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford in the cramped White House kitchen and called it an honor to be there.
After dinner, cast members from the film adaptation of "Jersey Boys" were to perform selections from the jukebox musical, which was popular in Japan.
The White House state dinner has become an especially rare commodity under this president: This is just the eighth state dinner for Obama over more than six years in office. That’s the smallest number since the six dinners that Harry Truman played host to over eight years in office, according to the White House Historical Association.
Lyndon B. Johnson crammed 54 state dinners into his five years in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan held 52 over two terms. Jimmy Carter managed 28 in four years. Among recent two-term presidents, Bill Clinton hosted 28 dinners and George W. Bush 14.
Obama has at least one more dinner in the offing, for China later in the year.
The decor celebrates a late-arriving spring and Washington’s famed cherry trees, a gift from Japan more than 100 years ago. Dinner tables will be decorated with arrangements of orchids, cherry blossoms and other flowers.
"It’s a welcoming, not just of our visitors but of our visitors to spring," said outgoing White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard.
Planning for the Obama state china began in the fall of 2011 when Mrs. Obama and family friend Michael Smith, who redecorated the Oval Office and the Obama family’s private residence, began gathering feedback from the White House residence staff, including the chefs.
Pickard China, of Antioch, Illinois, was brought in to consult on the project and produce the dinnerware.
The company, based in Mrs. Obama’s native state, has made dinnerware for use at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland and aboard Air Force One, but it had never made any of the official White House china.
Presidents aren’t required to have a state china service and some, including Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, had none.
Betty Monkman, a former White House curator and author for the White House Historical Association, said state china services have been purchased for a variety of reasons, including a president’s desire to have their stamp on something that’s left behind.
They also were bought to increase the number of place settings or replace broken, damaged or missing pieces.
"If you’ve seen our state dinners, we really do a lot of mixing and matching — sometimes because we really do not have enough, sometimes because we’re trying to create a new modern, different, edgy kind of look," Mrs. Obama said when she previewed the china for interior design journalists and bloggers last week. "This Kailua Blue is one of those colors that will complement some of the other pieces already in the collection in a way that’s elegant, and I think it will be timeless."