For former White House pastry chef, life is sweet

April 17, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • From left, judges Wolfgang Vomend, Kevin Scott, Steven Weiss (partially obscured) and Walter Brown, wearing tall white toques, contemplate a variety of cake-like creations Saturday for the West Virginia Book Book Faire's edible books competition in Martinsburg, W.Va.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- With his chef's-eye perspective of life inside the White House, Roland Mesnier served a platter of amusing anecdotes Saturday at a WV Book Faire event.

He recalled former President Bill Clinton's penchant for big parties and hearty appetite for sweets, which presented a challenge: Clinton was allergic to chocolate, dairy products and flour.

Mesnier -- who retired after more than 25 years as the White House executive pastry chef -- said he made a low-calorie strawberry cake that Clinton appeared to enjoy; he once ate half of a cake by himself.

One day, Clinton wanted leftover cake and was upset when a butler couldn't find it. Clinton's voice rose and he pounded a table.

"We think that Al Gore is the one who took it," Mesnier quipped.

Mesnier, 65, a native of France, told story after story at Blue Ridge Community & Technical College, where he was a celebrity judge for the book fair's Edible Book Contest.


"There was a time when he ate alone a lot," Mesnier said of Clinton. "Even the dog wouldn't eat with him. I don't know if you remember those days. They were rough in the White House."

"No more comment," Mesnier added as the audience laughed.

Mesnier said thousands of people visit the White House daily during a three-month period around Christmas. If he didn't start the season with 120,000 pieces of cookies and cake, the pastry shop couldn't keep up.

Part of the demand was from what Mesnier called "the club of blue-haired ladies."

Younger women were little trouble -- they were usually dieting and trying to fit into size-2 skirts, he said.

But the blue-haired ladies ...

"Beware: Those were cookie thiefs," he said.

Mesnier described them wandering along, opening their pocketbooks, looking around, whistling -- and pushing entire plates of cookies into their bags.

The women later had their husbands drill holes in the cookies, which they would string up and give as Christmas tree ornaments, he said.

"So we had to bake not only for the ... guests, but for all of the neighbors of the blue-haired ladies," Mesnier said.

After 52 years in the pastry kitchen, Mesnier said he still loves everything about the craft, even tasks as mundane as peeling applies. He chided those whose peeled apples turn out square, which isn't how they grow on trees.

Mesnier has said he never served the same dessert twice.

And each creation was his own.

"If it's not my recipe, I will not use it ..." he said. "You don't give a chef a recipe from a magazine. It's a slap in the face."

Edible book winners

The following people won prizes Saturday at the WV Book Faire's Edible Book Contest.

o Melanie Miller, a home-schooled student from Clear Brook, Va., won in the kindergarten to sixth-grade division. Her cake depicted Snoopy on a doghouse.

o Sara Arehart, a home-schooled student from Bunker Hill, W.Va., won in the grades 7 to 12 division. Her cake showed a scene from "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief."

o Marsha Chwalik of Inwood, W.Va., won in the home chef category. Her cake showed a bird in a nest from the children's book "Are You My Mother?"

o Jeffrey Downs of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., won in the culinary student division. His cake was inspired by "Necks Out for Adventure."

o Christal Miller won in the professional category. Her cake, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's writing, also won the People's Choice award.

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