Retired White House pastry chef at WV Book Faire

Chef to judge which edible book has the right flair

April 14, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Chef Roland Mesnier served these homemade white chocolate tigers along with edible lotus flowers for a White House state dinner for India.
Courtesy of Roland Mesnier,

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Think you can cook up a book good enough to eat? Let Chef Roland Mesnier be the judge of that.

Mesnier, 65, has created desserts for more than 40 queens, kings, princes and princesses and other heads of state as the White House's executive pastry chef for more than 25 years.

On Saturday, he's the chef to impress during the WV Book Faire's Edible Book Contest at Blue Ridge Community & Technical College in Martinsburg.

Mesnier will be the celebrity judge.

"When you do any contests like this, it's always good to stay classic," Mesnier said during a telephone interview from his countryside home in Virginia.

He offered this tip and others after sharing stories that sounded as though they came from some corner of Willy Wonka's factory. He talked about the time he served homemade white chocolate tigers and edible lotus flowers for India's state dinner - which included 800 guests.


There was also the time he made brown-sugar giraffes for Kenya's state dinner. "And that was only the decoration," Mesnier said.

The WV Book Faire is a two-day gathering of readers, authors and aspiring writers.

The book fair is tied to the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read initiative, a grass-roots effort to rally readers around a single book. Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library has been hosting events around Jack London's "The Call of the Wild."

Events are scheduled throughout downtown Martinsburg and include a Friday luncheon with journalist Cokie Roberts and dinner with writer Dave Pelzer later that night.

But amid all the meet-and-greets, signings and workshops scheduled for Friday and Saturday, organizers hope books will indulge the minds - and the taste buds - of voracious readers at the Edible Book Contest with books they can really sink their teeth into.

The registration deadline has passed for the contest but attendees can vote for their favorites. Proceeds benefit a scholarship fund for Blue Ridge culinary students. Contestants paid between $5 and $15 to submit edible, book-themed entries.

After the judging, Mes-nier will talk about his cooking adventures in the White House.

Mesnier retired as the White House's executive pastry chef in 2006, ending a 26-year career in the White House - much of which he recapped in "All the Presidents' Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir." His other books include "Roland Mesnier's Basic to Beautiful Cakes" and "Dessert University."

The retired chef is also willing to recreate any state dinner. Presidential and first lady impersonators are included.

Mesnier described his path to the presidential kitchen as a rags to riches tale. He was born in a tiny village in Bonnay, France. He was child No. 7 in a family of nine kids.

"We were very poor,"Mesnier said. "We ate what we grew."

His said childhood food memories were fond and included gardening, raising and eating his mother's chickens and eating grass-fed rabbit. The desserts were plentiful.

"Every day we had tarts in my house," Mesnier said.

He started as an apprentice in his brother's bakery, eventually working in kitchens throughout Europe and later in the United States at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va. As the story goes, it was first lady Rosalynn Carter who hired Mesnier in 1979 for the White House kitchen.

Mesnier said he never served the same dessert twice. To this day, he has strong feelings about what sorts of desserts should be served. Just ask him whether he served chocolate chip cookies during his years working at the White House.

"Chocolate chip cookies have not been in my repertoire for a while," Mesnier said. "This is not a hotel. This is not a restaurant. It's the White House, and at the White House everything should be spectacular because most people only come to a dinner at the White House once in their lifetimes. I don't want to serve them chocolate chip cookies with ice cream, or brownies, or a pumpkin tartlet. ... you can get that at Costco."

These days, Mesnier said he spends the moments between writing books and speaking engagements fishing and tending to the flower beds at his garden. He also enjoys entertaining friends with his wife Martha Mesnier, who is from Fairmont, W.Va.

What does a former White House pastry chef cook for dessert when he's cooking for himself?

"Well, I'm trying to skip dessert," Mesnier said. "I'm trying to keep my figure. I really enjoy fresh fruit a lot."

If you go ...

WHAT: WV Book Faire Edible Book Contest, featuring guest judge Chef Roland Mesnier, retired White House executive pastry chef.

WHEN: Saturday, April 17.

Judging begins at 11 a.m.; people's choice voting, noon; prizes awarded a speech by Mesnier at 1 p.m.

WHERE: Blue Ridge Community & Technical College, 400 W. Stephen St., downtown Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: Registration to enter is past. Free to the public to see displays.

MORE: For more information, go to the event's Web site, www, or call the Martins burg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 304-264-8801.

Another edible book contest

BOONSBORO -- The Boonsboro Free Library will host an edible book contest Saturday, April 17.

Entries will be accepted between 10 and 10:30 a.m. at Boonsboro Free Library, 401 Potomac St., Boonsboro. The public can vote for their favorite from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The contest is being held in celebration of National Library Week, a American Library Association campaign to promote the social contribution of libraries and librarians. National Library Week began Sunday, April 11, and ends Saturday.

Boonsboro Free Library is a part of the Washington County Free Library system.

For more information about the contest or other National Library Week events, call the main branch in Hagerstown, 301-739-3250.

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