(CBS News) U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never seems to have cooking far from her mind. She's turned the State Department kitchen into a tool of international diplomacy.
Clinton put her Chief of Protocol, Capricia Penavic Marshall, in charge of what's come to be known as "food diplomacy."
Predictable French food that used to dominate diplomatic functions is largely gone. Now foreign diplomats are served American food with fresh local ingredients, along with some subtle reminders of home.
"It's really important because they're going to talk about some tough issues with one another," Marshall said. "We want the framework of those tough discussions to be relaxing, to be welcoming, to be inviting."
Christopher James, the State Department's deputy chef, said they use a spice visitors are accustomed to or they present a dish in a way that has never been seen before in their country.
Marshall says that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the State Department recently, he was surprised and pleased to find good hummus at the table. And when China's Vice President Xi Jinping visited this year, a top Chinese-American chef was brought in to cook Chinese delicacies. "Vice President Xi's eyes lit up," Marshall said. "He was so honored by the gesture."
This week Jose Andres, one of the nation's top chefs, designed the menu for a meeting of protocol chiefs from all over the world. "I believe that dinner, gathering people around a table, you have a true opportunity to send hidden messages," Andres said. "... Through a menu, through the food that you put on a plate, for example Katrina."
To remind the foreign diplomats of the tragic losses and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, Andres served Louisiana Gulf shrimp. "Doing this simple gesture all of a sudden at the State Department is sending a message that we need to be supporting American ingredients, we need to be supporting our fishermen."
It would be hard to prove that good food makes for better diplomacy especially at a time when nations are so sharply divided on so many issues - but don't tell that to Andres, who believes all things are possible through food. He said, "With better food and a happy table, probably, probably, we will have a better world, a happier world."