When Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, stood up to address the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week, he gave a special shout-out to John Hickenlooper, who'd met with him in Denver the week before when LaHood was in town for a job summit -- and cooked dinner for him at his Park Hill home.
Denver's mayor, a former restaurateur, really knew how to cook, LaHood told the crowd, raving about the surf and turf (salmon and steak from Marczyk Fine Foods) that Hickenlooper prepared, then served in his kitchen while the two talked transportation.
"As you know," LaHood told the crowd of mayors, "John is a restaurateur, a very successful one, but I had no idea when I arrived in Denver that we were going to have dinner at his home....So this is a little clue for all of you when I come to your community: John actually cooked dinner. We had a wonderful steak, cooked perfectly, medium rare for both of us, and salmon, and a salad, and a bottle of wine. This guy is not only a fantastic mayor, he knows something about the restaurant business. So we had a great time in Denver."
There was good reason for the setting: Hickenlooper's wife, author Helen Thorpe, had an appearance for her book, Just Like Us, that night, and Hickenlooper was in charge of their seven-year-old.
"Maybe a year from now he'll be cooking something for me at the governor's house," LaHood continued, then added, "Now, as a Republican, I'll probably get in a lot of trouble for saying that."
Not with this group, though, and the appeal of a home-cooked meal wasn't lost on mayors hungry for federal money to help out their cities. During the question-and-answer session, several of them offered invitations to LaHood.
From the mayor of Clearwater, Florida, came this one: "We have stone crab and grouper as soon as you want to bring that money to Florida."
From Mesa, Arizona: "We have a bidding war. I can outcook Hickenlooper any day."
And from Laredo, Texas: "You'll have the best Mexican food, best enchiladas and tacos. We'll have a darn good meal, and also some barbecue." And maybe some Pepto Bismol.
But when he asked a question of LaHood, chef Hickenlooper revealed the perils of inviting a Cabinet member to dinner. "Trust me," he said. "I was so glad you showed up the next day at the job summit without any indigestion or food poisoning."