LAST WORDS: Broccoli-gate: How Brett Burch lost the contest and turned lemons into broccoli


 President Barack Obama greets children at the Kids' State Dinner in the East Room of the White House, July 9, 2013.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Last Words Column ArtJuly 11, 2013
Wendy Thompson
Last Words Column 

I’ve often been told on countless occasions throughout my years of living that life is not about the good or bad that comes your way – especially the bad breaks.  It’s about what you do with them that determines how far you go in life.  Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem “If”, “If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss… If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch… you’ll be a man, my son!” I now understand those words more fully. 

I’ve seen this too often in my own life, turning lemons into lemonade, taking my loss and turning it into a win.  But recently I watched a young boy who personified the very spirit I’ve preached about my entire life.  Brett Burch is a 9-year-old, Washington, D.C. native who attended First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Kid’s State Dinner” at the White House on Tuesday.  What many people don’t know is that Brett is the unlikely kid who asked President Obama the infamous question, “What’s your favorite food?” at the dinner, which was broadcasted around the nation. The president replied, “I really like broccoli.”  His reply set off a media frenzy that has now been dubbed ‘Broccoli-gate.’  What turned out to be a “15 minutes of fame” moment began far from the positive ending that resulted in a conversation with the president of the United States.

For Brett, even as a young boy – well younger than 9 years old – he had high goals and aspiration and worked hard to achieve IMGP0878smaallthem.  He’s a local artist in D.C. and places his artwork on tee-shirts and other clothing products which he sells on his website and Facebook page (Brett’s Trove).   He’s been an entrepreneur “for years,” as the old-timers say, and he has success written in his future.  But success does not always come in a straight line.  Sometimes it leads you off the beaten path and detours to failure and loss and then makes a right turn into the driveway of the White House.  This is what happened to Brett on Tuesday.

In May of this year, Brett entered his recipe in the recipe contest held by the White House, which would reward the winners with a ticket and seat at the First Lady’s “Kid’s State Dinner”.  He lost.  Another child from the District won the seat at the dinner.  But fate had other plans for Brett.  His mother, Melody, emailed me at the DC Spotlight Newspaper and reminded me that the state dinner would be on Tuesday and asked if our Cool Kid’s Club was covering it.  I said one of our reporter’s was covering it for our  POTUS columnWe chatted a bit and hung up.  

Moments later, I remembered that in 2012, when the DC IMGP0740smallSpotlight collected can goods in the neighborhood for the children’s shelter, it was Brett and his cousins, Madison and Malachi who volunteered to weather the bitter cold to help collect the food.  Brett became ill and couldn’t go, but “I really wanted to go,” he says now, “but I was really sick.”  His cousins worked on his behalf, and we collected the food to feed the homeless children for Christmas at the Sasha Bruce Youthwork shelter.  I appreciated his willing spirit and motives, so on Monday, I called his mother to say I wanted him to cover the state dinner for our newspaper.  He had loss the contest, but agreed to cover the state dinner as a member of the press.  I never could have dreamed it would go this far, however. 

When we got the confirmation from the First Lady’s press representative that Brett could cover the event as our kid reporter, his mom screamed.  When I phoned his mom from the White House and told her Brett had just met the president, she screamed again.  And on Wednesday while watching NBC’s video coverage of ‘Broccoli-gate,’ where her son asked the president, “What’s your favorite food?” she screamed even louder.   “That’s Brett.  That’s my son who said that,” she replied.

IMGP0868smallIt was true, because I was there as he walked through the halls of the White House.  I watched pint-size boy standing below the top journalist in the U.S. with his little video camera.  I watched him conversing with his young, new friend, Nicolas Come, who also attended the dinner as a kid reporter.  Nicolas created an app to help kids eat healthy foods.  I watched as Hannah, the First Lady’s press representative, walked over to me. I said to her, “Hannah, is there any way the president can come over and talk to the kid journalists?”  She replied that she didn’t think that was possible, because the president was now on the far side of the banquet hall and would be leaving soon.   She walked back over to the president and then returned to say that she was going to take the kid journalists over to the president.

Earlier I watched a mother crying as the president shook hands with her child, and I quipped that she was “over emotional,” that I would never be that emotional if my child met the president.  Then the president walked over and began talking to Brett and that infamous scene took place.  I turned to the other journalists in the press corps and yelled, “That’s Brett.  Oh my God, his mother is going to be so proud.”  Then tear began to well up in my eyes, and oh, how I wished I had not complained about the mother earlier.

After the event, Brett and I stood in the driveway of the White House taking photos, and I asked him what he and the president talked about.  He replied, “I asked him what his favorite food was.”  “What did he say?” I asked.  Brett replied, “He said ‘Broccoli.’”  I said okay nonchalantly and laughed and dismissed it.  We finished taking the photos and left.

When we got to the car, his grandmother, Sharon, was screaming, having received a IMGP0692smallcall from me about Brett’s encounter with the president.  “What did you say to the president?” she asked enthusiastically.  He replied, “I asked him what his favorite food was.”  “What did he say?” she asked.  Brett replied, “He said ‘Broccoli.’” When he arrived home to his screaming, excited mother, the conversation continued.  His mom asked him, “What did you say to the president?”  He replied, “I asked him what his favorite food was.”  “What did he say?” she asked.  Brett replied, “He said ‘Broccoli.’”

This routine continued throughout the day into the night with the same reply, “He said ‘Broccoli.’” Then the following morning Brett’s mother contacted me to say, “Have you heard about the president and “Broccoli-gate?  It’s all over the news!”  Journalists had watched Brett’s conversation with the president at the dinner and were now challenging whether the president ‘fibbed’ about broccoli being his favorite food.  It was Brett’s moment in time.  The rest is presidential history.

Today is Thursday and the story continues.  Two network news stations want to interview Brett.  He will also appear on the DC Spotlight Newspaper’s annual “Top 10 List of the Most Interesting People in DC”, which will be released in August.  Most notably, Brett has never mentioned or dwelled on that horrible moment when he learned that he had lost the recipe contest.  Instead, he got busy making his own success.  So, where does this story end?  Well, we’ll have to wait until Brett grows up to see how this moment affects his life.  Sometimes life can batter us as we get older, and we can become disillusioned and jaded.  We forget that when life hands us lemons, we have to make lemonade…or in Brett’s case, make broccoli.  Good luck Brett to all your future success!

Wendy Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
Last Words
DC Spotlight Newspaper


Here is Brett’s recipe that lost the contest, but won him a spot in presidential history.Eggecutive Order - Brett's Recipe small

“Egg”ecutive Order

8 Eggs

3 Avocados

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon of onion powder

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh red peppers

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh green peppers

1 table spoon of chopped fresh spring onion

1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise

Boil 8 eggs. Peel eggs then cut eggs in half for a total of 16 halves. Remove egg yolk and put aside. Place 3 ripe avocadoes in a bowl and mash until smooth. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon of onion powder. Stir to blend together. Next, blend in 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh red peppers, 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh green peppers, and 1 tablespoon of fresh spring onion. Stir to blend. Finally, add 1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise. Blend all ingredients. Spoon the smooth filling into each egg half. Chill the filled egg halves in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Garnish with a celery and baby carrots as shown in attached picture. Enjoy the “Egg”ecutive Order – a treat fit for presidential taste buds!

Serves 16.


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DC Spotlight's Editor-in-Chief

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