Ronnie Seaton's memoir Sir White House Chef was withdrawn last week by its publisher, Heritage Builders, after media outlets questioned Seaton's colorful tales.
A memoir by New Orleans chef Ronnie Seaton — grandson of the late New Orleans restaurateur Willie Mae Seaton — was abruptly pulled from publication last week after several media outlets questioned the veracity of Seaton's claims.
In the book, Sir White House Chef, Seaton claims to have served five U.S. presidents in White House kitchens. He also claims he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth with a "gold sword about two feet long with precious stones lining the handles." Seaton plans to open a cooking school in the Holy Cross neighborhood, a project he says is sponsored by Oprah Winfrey.
President Ronald Reagan hired him in 1982, he says, after dining on his cuisine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and he began a long career at the White House — cooking for luminaries that included former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He retired in January, he writes.
Seaton also claims to have been drafted into the Vietnam War in 1973 while a senior at "St. Augusta High School," which he describes as an "all white school" and home of the Purple Knights. (The draft ended in 1972.) He also says he was a prisoner of war, broke free from his captors, received a Purple Heart and finished eight years in the military before receiving a scholarship from the Culinary Institute of America.
Little of it seems to be true. White House officials told the New York Post Seaton never worked there. The National Personnel Records Center, the U.S. government's central repository of military records, shows Seaton enlisted in the Army in 1973 and was discharged in 1980 as a Sergeant First Class, with no record of being a prisoner of war or receiving a Purple Heart. "Certified Master Chef" is a phrase copyrighted by the American Culinary Federation (ACF), and the ACF's Jennifer Manley told Gambit, "ACF has no record of Ronnie Seaton (or any variation of R Seaton) receiving any kind of certification from our organization."
The knighting, in his telling, came after Seaton cooked for the queen with Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and "Emma" Lagasse, who encouraged him to get playful with Her Majesty: "''Go ahead and crack a joke, Ronnie. You work at the White House, they're not going to fire you,' Emma Lagasse said." So he presented Queen Elizabeth with a can of "Slap Ya Mama" Louisiana seasoning, and in response the queen knighted him on the spot.
Gambit requested an interview with Seaton last week. In an email, Brian Mayes of the Nashville Publicity Group, which was coordinating press for its publication, wrote, "The publisher is pulling the book, and we have ceased all promotion. Very disappointing."
Though the book still was for sale on websites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble last week, no record of it remains on the website of its publisher, California-based company Heritage Builders Publishing. Sherman Smith, head of Heritage Builders, did not respond to Gambit's queries, nor to a request for an interview with Seaton.
When the New York Post asked for proof of his claims, Seaton said, "I can see what my wife has in the file cabinet."
Even a cursory edit on Sir White House Chef should have alerted the most credulous publisher. Seaton claims, for instance, that he made "one of the most seductive meals" ever for President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The following morning, the room looked like "a wild party went on in there." A Secret Service officer later carried a blue dress through the kitchen, telling Seaton, "It's got a stain on the chest."
"'A stain?' I didn't think much about it."
President George W. Bush, Seaton writes, often left "marijuana roaches" at his place at the table, and carried on an affair with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Seaton also says President Barack Obama frequently sought his counsel on matters like immigration: "Master Chef, why are they on me about all this? Don't they know that every person in America is animmigrant except the American Indian?"
Seaton writes at length about his affection for GOP presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is critical of Hillary Clinton, and makes it clear he doesn't support "gay rights or anything about forcing laws on the public that make you accept something I believe is fundamentally against human nature and the Laws of the Bible."
Perhaps Seaton's strangest claim is that he only hired whites. "All my chefs were Caucasian, and I couldn't get an African American chef a job in my kitchen," he writes. "There were two reasons for this: 1) they couldn't pass the drug test, and 2) they didn't have the credit report score needed to get hired."
A "Sir Ronnie J. Seaton Sr." registered the companies Cooking to Please! LLC and Commis Culinary Cafe with the Louisiana Secretary of State's office in January, around the time he says he departed the White House, and says Winfrey is sponsoring a culinary school he is opening in New Orleans. That school is a part of the controversial Holy Cross condominium development by the New Orleans development firm Perez, APC. Seaton also has spoken about his time in the military and working at the White House in numerous publications.
Seaton is scheduled to sign and discuss his book Dec. 19 at Barnes & Noble in Metairie. A representative for the store told Gambit late last week the event still was on — for now.