WASHINGTON — French President Emmanuel Macron's long-anticipated visit to Washington has included a number of nods to Louisiana, the U.S. state with perhaps the deepest ties to France and French culture.
But one detail — a "jambalaya" served with rack of spring lamb at Tuesday night's White House state dinner, a lavish gala where the guest list included Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy — struck those familiar with Louisiana cuisine as off.
The rice dish, according to sources who ate it, included no seafood, chicken or sausage and wasn't really a jambalaya at all.
"The jambalaya was not jambalaya — it may have been rice pilaf but it wasn't jambalaya," said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, who attended with his wife, Dr. Laura Cassidy.
"I was kind of thinking at the end, 'There was supposed to be jambalaya here.' It had no semblance of jambalaya," Cassidy added. "On the other hand, it was very good."
Kennedy, in a bid to be "diplomatic," referred to the dish as "Washington jambalaya" while discussing the dinner with an ABC News podcast.
Cassidy described the evening in glowing terms and said first lady Melania Trump — who handled all the details for the affair, the first official state dinner of Donald Trump's presidency — did "a fantastic job."
"The setting was beautiful, the music, the food was fantastic," Cassidy said.
"It was just an exquisite evening," Kennedy said. "(Mrs. Trump) really did a wonderful job."
Kennedy said he spoke briefly with Macron to thank the French leader for standing with the U.S. during a recent set of strikes on the Syrian regime.
The senator also jokingly thanked Macron for selling Louisiana to the United States — a deal struck in 1803 by Napoleon, then first counsul of the French Republic, and U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.
The "jambalaya" — which piqued interest of Louisianans after details of the menu were announced on Monday — was made with Carolina gold rice, according to Mrs. Trump's office.
The White House promised the rice would be "cooked in a New Orleans tradition and scented with the trinity of Cajun cooking — celery, peppers, and onions and spiced with herbs from the South Lawn."
The announcement prompted some to inquire what kind of meat or seafood might get mixed in — and whether the jambalaya would include tomatoes or not, a distinction that divides the "red" jambalaya popular in New Orleans and the "brown" variety more common in Cajun country.
Instead, it turned out the "jambalaya" was a seasoned rice accompaniment to the main course, rack of lamb.
Edwards, the lone Democratic politician to score an invite to the event, took along his wife, Donna, whom he met growing up in Amite.
"Donna and I are extremely grateful for the invitation to attend the first state dinner of the Trump Administration. Everything was beautiful and First Lady Melania Trump did an outstanding job planning the event," Edwards said Wednesday. "We’re proud of our state’s French heritage and we were extremely honored to meet President Macron."
Macron, 40, also dined privately with the Trumps at Mount Vernon — George Washington's Virginia plantation home — on Monday evening.
Earlier on Tuesday, Macron attended a State Department luncheon hosted by Vice President Mike Pence.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Cassidy were among the guests at the lunch, the senator told The Advocate. The pair were seated together with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer who, Cassidy said, turned out to have an impressive knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana's political history.
Breyer, a 79-year-old California native, delivered "a fantastic imitation" of the colorful and erratic late Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, Cassidy said.
Some New Orleans civic leaders had hoped Macron might include Saturday's New Orleans Tricentennial International Welcome Ceremony on his itinerary for the trip. Macron didn't make it — but did make a pair of nods to Louisiana in his speech in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to a joint meeting of Congress.
Macron noted French tourists' "fascination for Louisiana" and pointed to the state's French speakers by declaring that the "heart of Francophonie beats in the United States, from New Orleans to Seattle" while calling for more French language education in American schools.