Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ex-White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier

I got to interview Chef Roland Mesnier tonight.He was in town promoting his book, "Dessert University."

He was White House Pastry Chef from 1979 to 2004.

Here is some of the gossip he dished:

Skinny Nancy Reagan always ate dessert. But sometimes she skipped the entree.

Nancy watched Ronnie's weight for him and wouldn't let him have the chocolate he loved. But when Nancy was out of town, Chef Roland used to whip up some chocolate souffle for Ronnie. "Then he was a very, very happy man," said Roland.

Bill Clinton was allergic to chocolate.

Rosalyn Carter arranged for Mesnier to become an American citizen in a hurry-up ceremony to avoid any scandal over him being foreign-born.

Mesnier is a very charming, old-world kind of guy. One of nine children, he grew up in France in a house with no running water and no electricity. One bite of sour cherry tart his brother, a pastry apprentice, gave him at age 12 made him fall in love with pastry. The memory of that taste still inspires him. The wonder of that flavor is what he is always trying to capture, he said.

He's a very hard worker: you don't get to be White House pastry chef for 25 years by being a slacker. His pastry apprenticeship started when he was 14 and finished 3 years later. He began travelling to different countries to learn different languages and styles of pastry.

"I always wanted to be a well-rounded pastry chef," he said.

Always aiming for the top jobs, he worked at the Hotel Georges V in Paris (he got a little misty talking about it), the Savoy in London and the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Rosalynn Carter heard about him and hired him after a 20-minute interview. You would too - he's that charming.

He said Nancy Reagan was his biggest challenge, because she was a demanding perfectionist who came up with difficult ideas that he had to produce. One time for a state dinner for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, she gave him 2 days to design and create 15 sugar baskets with 6 sugar tulips in each, filled with a variety of sorbets. He said he told her "But I have only 2 days!" and she replied "Yes, but you have two days and two nights!

But he said he thanks Nancy every day, because she made him a better pastry chef. (He also admitted it took him a while to get to that conclusion).

I loved meeting Chef Roland because he took such great pride and joy in his work. He managed to endow it with a great deal of seriousness and a lovely humor, all at once.

"After all," he said, "Dessert time is good time. This is not rocket science."

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