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A handful of people in the world know that German Chancellor Angela Merkel loves popping over to Paris because of her penchant for French cuisine, while it's best to avoid serving artichokes to French President Francois Hollande. They are the top chefs from the kitchens of the world's leaders, masters of the art of sweetening international relations with a sumptuous meal, who gather in Paris this week to swap recipes and tips on dinner-party diplomacy.
"Presidents come and go, but chefs stay," said Gilles Bragard, the French businessman who started the club of chefs to the world's presidents and monarchs in 1977. "I often say that if politics divides, then the table brings people together," he told a news conference in Paris at their latest annual get-together. In a wink at the cooks' importance, the club's name - "Le Club des Chefs des Chefs" - plays on the fact the French word for chef and leader is the same. It could translate as "The Club of Chefs of the Chiefs" or "The Club of Chiefs of the Chiefs".
Chefs throughout history have played a vital, behind-the-scenes role in diplomacy, helping to ease fraught relations and smooth the way for talks. As Bragard recounts, the great French strategist Talleyrand, credited with the rise of the diplomatic banquet, once told Napoleon Bonaparte: "Give me a good chef and I shall give you good treaties." Keen to smooth tensions over the euro zone crisis when Hollande and Merkel met this month to mark 50 years of Franco-German reconciliation, French chefs chose to reproduce the famous meal of filet of beef and raspberry macarons prepared in 1962 for post-war leaders Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer when they signed their friendship treaty.
The chefs, some of the few people who have daily access to the world's power-brokers, have the utmost trust of their employers. Only the Kremlin still has an official taster on hand to sample the Russian president's food and make sure it hasn't been tampered with. Other world leaders put their stomachs entirely in the hands of their cooks.