After years of strengthening ties, US-India partnership deep, expansive: Jill Biden

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Jill Biden (File Photo)

Washington: First Lady Jill Biden said after years of strengthening ties, the US-India partnership is deep and expansive as the two countries jointly tackle global challenges.

She also previewed to the media the menu of the State Dinner being hosted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi by her and US President Joe Biden.

"With this official State Visit, we are bringing together the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies," Jill Biden said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Modi is visiting the US from June 21-24 at the invitation of President Biden and the First Lady.

Jill Biden said that "after years of strengthening ties, the US-India partnership is deep and expansive as we jointly tackle global challenges. But our relationship isn't only about governments".

"We are celebrating the families and friendships that span the globe, those who feel the bonds of home in both of our countries," she said as she previewed the menu.

Observing that Prime Minister Modi is a vegetarian, Jill Biden said she had asked Chef Nina Curtis -- who specialises in plant-based gourmets -- to work with the White House staff and create a stunning vegetarian menu. Guests will have the option to add fish to their main course as well, she said. The First Lady said, "Tomorrow night, guests will walk across the South Lawn into a pavilion draped in rich greens with saffron coloured flowers at every table. The colours of the Indian flag."

She said that on the transparent sides, will be colours that represent "the strength and heritage, frame the iconic scenery and symbols of our nation, our democracy and our history -- the White House and the Washington Monument".

"Inside, each table arrangement is warm and unique. We hope guests feel as if someone has set that table just for them, because we have. After dinner, we will have the opportunity to hear one of our nation's incredible talents, Grammy award winner Joshua Bell," she said.

His performance will be followed by that of Penn Masala, a group from the University of Pennsylvania, along with songs inspired by the sounds of India, Jill Biden said.

"Finally, after the last plates are cleared, with new connections forged and old ones strengthened, guests will end their evening walking across a moonlit lawn. There they will be greeted by hundreds of glowing lanterns guiding them home, illuminating their pathway with all the warmth and love and laughter we hope they take away from our time together," she said.

White House Social Secretary Carlos Elizondo, previewing the State Dinner, said the First Lady has been involved in this event at every step.

Every element of the dinner and decor has been chosen to make each guest's experience personal and warm, Elizondo said.

"The inspiration for our design really began with the peacock, India's national bird. From the invitations to the programmes to the pavilion, we wanted to evoke that breathtaking feeling when it extends its tail, unveiling its colourful beauty, majesty, and strength," the official said.

"Green draping will flow from the ceiling, giving way to tables cloaked in the saturated blues and greens of Indian silks, falling onto a carpet of navy blue. The hues, not only a nod to our guests, but also to our host, as blue and green are also two of Dr (Jill) Biden's favourite colours," Elizondo said.

Each table will feature an arrangement of blooms in vases large and small, and the colour of the flowers mirrors the saffron of India's flag and the heritage it represents, he said.

The social secretary said as leaders have done at State Dinners for decades, the president and the prime minister will give their toasts from an eagle lectern.

"For this dinner, embossed on the rich forest green backdrop behind them, we have replicated that iconic eagle and a peacock in the same style, framing the leaders with their national birds. In the peacock's talons, stalks of millets, a nod to India's successful campaign to declare 2023 the International Year of Millets," he said.

Elizondo said around them are lotus flowers that are important symbols in India. "Their gleaming petals reminding us, that each day, our nations bloom stronger and more radiant, together. Throughout the space, you will see more images of lotuses, their design inspired by the mandala illustrations found in traditional Indian art," he added.

The design, he said, also reflects the First Lady's love of candles, their timeless elegance and their approachable warmth.

Guests will be guided to the pavilion by their flickering light, just visible in the fading sunlight. The dinner itself will be lit with sparkling candlelight, the official said.

Elizondo said dishes in the menu will mirror the decor, infusing the cuisine with Indian flavours and culture, like millets and saffron. Chef Curtis then worked with the First Lady and White House chefs to create the delicious cuisine for the evening, he said.

Chef Curtis said this is definitely a pinnacle moment in her career.

"It is truly a pleasure to be able to work with the First Lady and help her to bring her culinary vision to life... we have curated a menu that really showcases the best in American cuisine and also then seasoned with Indian elements and flavours," she said.

"We are also very excited that India is leading efforts to celebrate the international year of the millets. We have incorporated marinated millets into our menu and the Indian cuisine elements throughout the menu," the chef said.