At last night's "Life is Sweet" benefit for Best Buddies, a Virginia-based group promoting global volunteerism, former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier told Niteside about everything from Ronald Reagan's sweet tooth to Chelsea Clinton's sixteenth birthday, cooking through 9/11 and W's favorite ice cream.
What was it like the first time you walked into the white house? I was like a kid, to be honest; I didn’t know how to act. Right away you think about all the people who have been there before you and who have changed the world for the better. It’s the most powerful home in the world, there’s nothing like it.
Who was the first President you worked for? President Carter in 1979. I really adored his wife Mrs. Carter; they made me feel very welcome.
How does one go about becoming a white house chef? Luckily for me I was chosen! I actually didn’t want the job; I was very happy where I was. I used to be a pastry chef in Virginia at The Homestead Resort and had no desire to go anywhere else, until members of the White House staff approached me about coming aboard. I turned it down a few times, but when I visited the White House for the first time I changed my mind and ended up staying 26 years.
What were some of the former President’s favorite desserts? President Reagan loved chocolate cake, but Mrs. Reagan didn’t like me giving him any. However, when she took trips, he got the biggest bowl of chocolate mouse I could give him. President George W. Bush, is a huge lover of traditional American cakes and butter pecan ice cream, those are his favorite.
What was it like being in the White House during scary moments like 9/11? It was always frightening, especially on days like that because you know that the White House will always be a target. However, you’re there to do a job and scary moments come with that. You’re job as a white house chef is to remain calm and be sharp.
What were your favorite moments during your 26 years at the white house? I loved to see the families celebrating birthdays and special family events. I remember one time we celebrated Chelsea Clinton’s sixteenth birthday and her dad filmed everything on his personal camera. Times like those are always the best because you can see the presidential family is just like us, another American family.
What words of wisdom can you give to aspiring chefs who want to get to where you are? I’d advise all aspiring chefs to not get caught up in food shows, that’s all for entertainment. When you watch these food shows they make it seem like it’s all fun and it is, but it’s also a lot of work. If you really want to be in this industry, study the craft, and be passionate about it. If you’re not, don’t do it!