Kiwi hospitality to be shown for Mainers

Posted Jan. 19, 2009, at 10:37 a.m.

The main social event for Mainers attending Barack Obama’s inauguration will feature New Zealand lamb cutlets and wine, along with a helping of kiwi hospitality.

The New Zealand Embassy will be the venue for Monday’s inaugural reception featuring Gov. John Baldacci and at least three former governors, the state’s entire congressional delegation, and prominent Democrats including former Senate leader George Mitchell.

The invitation-only event featuring a who’s who of Maine politics will serve as something of an unofficial kickoff for festivities for Mainers in Washington for Obama’s inauguration.

Severin Beliveau said he felt the need for a Maine-focused event in Washington because of the excitement generated in Maine by Obama’s presidential campaign. Obama, who becomes the nation’s first black president, swept the state’s caucuses and won 15 of the state’s 16 counties on Election Day.

“It’s historic for reasons we’re all familiar with,” Beliveau said. “I can almost equate this to John Kennedy’s inauguration in January in 1961, which I attended. You saw the same energy, the same desire for change, the same hope. I see strong parallels.”

It may seem a bit odd for the event to be held at the New Zealand Embassy of all places, but the venue is something of a coup for organizers.

It turns out that a lawyer from Beliveau’s firm — Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau and Pachios — is a New Zealand native and honorary consulate for New England.

That helped open the door to holding the event at the New Zealand Embassy on Washington’s Embassy Row instead of at a local hotel. Hosting the event, along with the Portland-based law firm, are New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.S., Roy Ferguson, and his wife, Dawn.

The reception will feature Maine shrimp cocktails and shrimp cakes, lobster rolls with avocado, mango and herbs, and saffron-scented clam chowder. New Zealand fare will include wine and lamb cutlets with a wild blueberry chutney. New Zealand, with its lush pastures, is known for its sheep.

Later, Maine’s two Democrats in Congress — Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree — are hosting a separate event that’s open to the public at the Cannon House Office Building.

After that, Mainers working in the District of Columbia or visiting for Tuesday’s inauguration will be largely on their own for entertainment except for the New England ball at Union Station.

The Maine State Society, a home-away-from-home for Mainers working in Washington, usually hosts an inauguration event but abandoned the idea this time. Obama’s inauguration generated so much interest that the group couldn’t find affordable meeting space.

Back in Maine, there’ll be a smattering of events across the state where people can gather to watch the inauguration on Tuesday afternoon.

The Maine Democratic Party’s official event is at the Asylum sports bar in downtown Portland, where people will watch live on a series of big-screen TVs. Fewer than 100 people are expected, said Arden Manning, the party’s state executive director.

Some college campuses are also holding events. One of the more unusual events will be at Northern Maine Community College, which is holding a presidential food fiesta.

The Presque Isle event will feature some of the favorite foods of past presidents: Kennedy’s New England chowder, Lyndon Johnson’s Texas chili, Bill Clinton’s chicken enchiladas, George W. Bush’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and even George H.W. Bush’s pork rinds.

In Obama’s honor, there’ll be a variety of pasta dishes inspired by his favorite restaurant, the Italian Fiesta Pizzeria in Chicago’s Hyde Park. For those with a sweet tooth, there’ll be Gerald Ford’s pecan ice cream with peach slices and, of course, Ronald Reagan’s jelly beans.

Candice Rivera, a liberal studies student, organized the event. “It’s sort of a lighthearted culinary history lesson,” she said. “We plan on having fun with it.”

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