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Ex-White House chef cooks up economy-friendly fare

  • Story Highlights
  • Former White House chef opens restaurant to serve "comfort food"
  • Menu designed to take the "sticker shock" out of dining
  • Former president was fan of salsa, tuna sandwiches, warm cookies and milk
  • Owners say prices lower due to local ingredients, minimal staff
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By Chris Welch
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- David and Christina Macfarlane always dreamed of opening a restaurant. And with David's background as a White House chef, they certainly have the in-house culinary ability.

Among the specialties at the Macfarlanes' new eatery: Fish and chips.

David and Christina Macfarlane in their Minneapolis restaurant, L'Ecosse.

But they never imagined they'd be doing it in one of the toughest economic times ever, and they wondered if it would even be possible.

"The banks were like, 'You're opening a restaurant now?' " Christina says. " 'Yeah, we're opening a restaurant now.' "

David was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but moved to the United States with his family in his early teens and soon found his passion for the palate. Soon after high school, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he ultimately spent years cooking -- two of which were spent in the kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a chef for President Clinton at the beginning of his first term in 1992.

Looking at a picture of himself and the former president, David describes a favorite memory.

"He said that was the best meal he ever ate. I was pretty geeked about that." See more about that favorite meal »

But the Macfarlanes wanted more time as a family -- something not suited to David's high-profile job. They moved a number of times before settling down in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, suburbs where, most recently, David worked for Fusion Culinary -- until his position was eliminated, that is.

Christina says that as dismayed as David was over the job loss, she saw it as "a blessing."

"I thought, 'Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!' " she says, adding that she saw it as the perfect opportunity to follow through with their dream.

Now, despite the battered economy, the two stand behind the bar in their new restaurant, L'Ecosse, which, incidentally, is French for "Scotland."

However, they have a slightly different take on the menu than perhaps they would have had if times were perkier.

"We went to over a dozen restaurants looking at menus, pricepoints, [and] realizing the struggles in the economy," Christina recalls.

The two concluded that while people are still eating out, they aren't seeking "fancy" food -- in other words, they weren't seeking the type of fare one might typically associate with state dinners at the White House.

David says that's all a misconception anyway.

"Comfort food," he says. "That's what the president wanted most."

Some of the president's favorite foods, David says were nachos and salsa, tuna sandwiches, or just warm milk and cookies.

"[President Clinton] wasn't looking for any of the fancy frou-frou stuff. We did that for state dinners or we did that for dignitaries that would come in, but ... at lunchtime when the president would be in the Oval Office by himself, [he'd say] 'Lemme have a tuna sandwich.' "

At L'Ecosse, tuna and warm cookies are on the menu.

Keeping with his Scottish upbringing, David's menu also is largely UK-centric: meat pies and fish and chips are two of the specialties.

He does it all with fresh, local ingredients and says he can keep prices down because he does a lot of the work himself and with the help of a very minimal staff. Video Watch the chef talk about keeping it simple »

Everything on the breakfast and lunch menus is priced under $10, and the two say that when they expand to a full dinner menu once their liquor license is approved, they want to keep prices similarly low.

"The reason we did that was so nobody had sticker shock," David says. "They're very good items, but they're also inexpensive items and you're not going to break the bank."


"If you want to come in and get Bill Clinton's favorite, it doesn't have to be $15 during the day. And that's what we want people to understand -- we understand where you're at."

As Christina puts it, "You are going to get great food that your mother used to make for you." And, ideally, the bill won't send you into debt.

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