Dr. Roland Mesnier has had an amazing career, working as a patissier in some of the finest establishments in the world, most notably, at the White House! I recently finished reading one of his books, All the Presidents' Pastries, which chronicles his beginnings in France through his rise to the top, and shares some interesting insight about life working in the White House.
Dr. Mesnier was kind enough to take the time to talk to me about his career and what plans he has for the future. I happened upon Dr. Mesnier's book when I passed by his book signing table at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC this past summer. My family was delighted to meet him and buy the book, signed of course! In All the Presidents' Pastries, he describes how he got his start as a patissier in France, and his journey through apprenticeship and his time working in Paris before moving on to various countries. Many people believe the French make the best food, especially the best pastries. I wondered what role he felt his formation in France played in making him the successful patissier he is today. "In France they still teach a real foundation on how to go about doing things," he tells me. Too many people today eat "convenience food," where most of the ingredients are made somewhere else and chef assembles it at the restaurant. "I learned to do everything from scratch." This is a big plus in France and in Europe, he says. I enjoyed reading about all the extensive research Mesnier did for each state dinner, and how beautifully he was able to incorporate the guest countries' cultures into his magnificent pastry dishes. But did he ever find himself putting "French" touches on some of his desserts for the First Families? "I would say 99% of my desserts were French foundation with an American twist, adapted to the American liking." A recipe might call for a nut filling, but he would exchange it for a peanut butter base, something more appealing to the American palate. When I read about how torn Mesnier felt when American-French relations were strained in 2003 with the onset of the war, I instantly remembered how I felt the same way, being a lover of French language and culture but also being an American citizen. "...[I]n general it's always been good between France and America, strained a little bit during [beginning of] the American and Iraq War. I think the press made it a big to-do and it wasn't a big to-do. This sometimes upsets me. The press in America and the press in general are not reporting exactly what is taking place. People would tease me in the White House, but it's not really a big deal. It was never in malice, and I never felt that they had bad feelings towards me as a Frenchman."
And now for the fun questions!
What are some terms an avid pastry connoisseur should know?
Mesnier explains that a pastry connoisseur should know the base of what they are eating, for example, genoise is a very typical cake. They should know what butter cream is, they should know mousse, which is very popular today, and dacquoise, a meringue-base with ground nuts (sometimes almond, hazelnut, or pistachio) mixed in.
What are one or two of his favorite pastries to create?
Crème brûlee, and custard desserts, and of course blown and pulled sugar, which is his specialty.
What are one or two of his favorite pastries to eat? Does he eat his own?
"I do eat my own;" His favorites are pies.
What endeavors is he undertaking in the future?
Writing more books, doing speaking engagements, and demonstrations for the public. "I am still very involved."
Some of his favorite spots in France to visit:
Mesnier loves to visit Paris – there so many good places to eat! He also enjoys the South of France and the Riviera,"especially in the winter time. I also like the countryside and just driving along; most of the time I will come across a wonderful countryside restaurant that has great food. It's very different from America because in France you drive a few miles and the food changes with the countryside. In America when you travel you will find pretty much the same food everywhere you go, which I don't really care for. Out of nowhere in France you can come across some of the best restaurants which is something very special to me."
Some of hisr favorite spots in France to eat good pastries:
"I like to discover new places because there are a lot of terrific places that nobody knows about. You'll never see those places in any newspaper, in any magazine, those are really great places to go. You do not need to go to famous places to have great food."
If you would like to purchase one of Dr. Mesnier's books, click a cover!