On 26 August 2022, we said farewell to a true luminary of the culinary world, Chef Roland Mesnier. As we remember his extraordinary life and enduring legacy, we are reminded of the profound impact he left on the art of pastry and the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to know him.
Roland’s journey was one of dedication, innovation, and a profound love for the craft that defined his existence. From his humble beginnings in France to his storied career at the White House, Roland’s contributions enriched our culinary landscape and inspired countless chefs, both seasoned and aspiring.
As we reflect on his remarkable achievements, let us also remember the warmth and generosity that made Roland not just a culinary icon, but a beloved mentor and friend to many. His willingness to share his knowledge, to uplift others, and to create moments of joy through his delectable creations touched lives far beyond the kitchens he graced.
Today, we honor the memory of a man who brought “sweetness” to our lives in more ways than one. Let us continue to celebrate his legacy by embracing the artistry, innovation, and kindness that defined Roland Mesnier’s journey. Though he may be gone from our sight, his spirit lives on through every dessert crafted, every lesson taught, and every joyful moment he gifted us.
About Chef Roland Mesnier
Born on 8 July 1944, in Bonnay, France, Roland Mesnier would go on to become a pivotal figure in the world of pastry, leaving an enduring legacy of creativity, skill, and dedication. His life’s journey was a delightful blend of passion, determination, and culinary artistry that left an indelible mark on the global culinary scene.
Roland’s culinary adventure began at a young age, as he grew up in the picturesque French countryside, surrounded by the aromas and flavors of his family’s kitchen. He discovered his vocation by accident on a summer day at the age of twelve.
According to his website, “his fascination with the art of baking and pastry-making developed early on.” Under the tutelage of his elder brother Jean, who was a baker, Roland embarked on his culinary journey. At 14, he worked at a local patisserie, Besançon, where he began a three-year pastry apprenticeship (making the equivalent of $1 a month), where he exchanged his talents for lodging and meals.
“The first year was spent scrubbing floors and washing pots before the chef showed him how to make a croissant,” read his obituary in The Washington Post. “You never forget when you make your first croissant,” he recalled to the Charlotte Observer.
Roland’s talent was evident, and he honed his skills at the acclaimed pastry school, École Lenôtre in Paris, where he refined his techniques and embraced innovation.
After earning his professional certification as a pastry chef at 17, Roland went on to work in Paris, Hanover, and Hamburg. Upon fulfilling a three-year term of military service in France, his path led him to the prestigious Savoy Hotel in London, where he assumed the role of pastry sous chef, contributing his skills to the iconic establishment. Subsequently, he ascended to the position of Executive Pastry Chef, a nine-year tenure that unfolded at the renowned Princess Bermuda resort, where, in 1967, he met his future wife, Martha Whiteford, a teacher from West Virginia who was in Bermuda on vacation. Together they have a son, George.
In 1974, their journey then carried them back to France, where Roland was hired as the Executive Pastry Chef at the George V Hotel, what is now the Four Seasons Hotel George V, in Paris. He returned to Bermuda as the Corporate Pastry Chef overseeing all Princess properties. In a pivotal turn of events in April 1976, Roland’s path brought him to the United States, where he was the Executive Pastry Chef at The Homestead—an esteemed resort hotel nestled in Hot Springs, Virginia.
On To The White House
In 1979, a fresh chapter of his career unfolded as he assumed the role of Executive Pastry Chef at the White House beginning with the Carter administration and ending with George W. Bush . As reported by the New York Times, Mesnier underwent an interview process for the position in December of 1979 and following an expedited processing of his citizenship application, he officially began in February 1980.
This marked the beginning of an illustrious and unprecedented tenure, spanning 26 years and five different presidencies. Roland’s culinary prowess graced countless state dinners, celebrations, and official events, captivating the taste buds and hearts of both dignitaries and everyday citizens.
During an online White House Q&A in 2004, Roland was asked if the Secret Service restricted him from serving any “flaming desserts.” He replied that they do not, but he personally does because “on one Christmas a lady caught on fire. She was wearing a fox shawl around her neck, she leaned over on the dessert table and whoops she was on fire.”
Founding Club Coupe du Monde Team USA
Beyond his role at the White House, Roland’s influence extended globally. He was a driving force behind the formation of the US Pastry Team (Club Coupe du Monde Team USA), contributing to its inception and nurturing its growth. In the late 1980s, MOF Chef Gabriel Paillasson, the founder and director of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie, asked Roland to establish a US Team.
In 1988, Roland extended an invitation to Chef Gilles Renusson, currently the Chairman of Club Coupe du Monde Team USA, inviting him to join the team as one of its coaches. The inaugural competition took place in 1989 in Lyon, France, with the initial US Team comprised of Chefs Bob Bennett, Anne Johnson, and Michel Finel.
Bob Bennett, currently the Executive Pastry Chef at Union League Liberty Hill, recounts his initial encounter with Roland back in January 1985. This memorable meeting took place during President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, where Bob served as a guest pastry chef. Despite having only nine days to prepare, Bob and a team of students from the New England Culinary Institute managed to craft an impressive, multi-tiered cake topped with an intricately detailed replica of the United States Capitol building. The Capitol building itself is made from pastillage and the windows were made from chocolate.
On January 20th, a total of five inaugural balls had been scheduled. However, when the moment arrived for the cake-cutting, President Reagan was facing a delay in his schedule. As a result, Roland was chosen to take on the responsibility of conducting the cake-cutting ceremony.
Today, Bob’s pastillage Capitol building can be seen today on display at the Union League Liberty Hill in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania.
According to Bob, sometime around 1987 or 1988, Roland paid a visit to Philadelphia for a special event. Coincidentally, the event was happening right next to Le Bec Fin, where Bob worked as the Executive Pastry Chef. During this occasion, Roland created an incredibly delectable coconut mousse that left a lasting impression.
“I made a chestnut mousse,” recalled Bob. “Roland tasted it and asked me for the recipe. I told him I would give it to him as long as he would give me the coconut mousse recipe. He did.”
Bob went on to say that after being chosen for the 1989 team, Roland extended two invitations for him to visit the White House where he mentored Bob for the competition.
Roland continued to coach the team and by 1991, Gilles became a part of it once more – this time as a competitor. He was joined by Chefs Eric Bedoucha and Mary Cech.
“Although I knew and adored Roland as our team manager for the Pastry World Cup, the next competition I participated in was at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan within a year of the Pastry World Cup. Roland was the judge,” said Mary. This picture is after the New York competition taken with Mary’s good friend Elizabeth Falkner from San Francisco and my right-hand assistant, Jamal, from Cypress Club restaurant in San Francisco.
Roland’s commitment to sharing his expertise and fostering talent solidified his position as a mentor and an ambassador for the world of pastry arts.
Retiring from the White House in 2004, Roland continued to inspire aspiring chefs and pastry enthusiasts through his books, demonstrations, and lectures. He published three memoirs including, “All the Presidents’ Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir,” which offered a captivating glimpse into the inner workings of the White House kitchen and the unique challenges of his role. In addition, he also co-wrote two cookbooks with Lauren Chattman.
Lessons from Roland Mesnier’s Journey
As we commemorate the one year anniversary of Roland Mesnier’s passing, it’s essential to reflect on the invaluable lessons his life and work have imparted to us:
- Passion and Dedication Know No Bounds: Mesnier’s journey from a small French village to the White House is a testament to the power of passion and unwavering dedication. He proved that with determination and hard work, dreams can indeed become reality.
- Innovation is Key: Mesnier’s willingness to experiment with flavors, techniques, and designs reminds us that innovation is at the heart of culinary evolution. Embracing change and pushing the envelope can lead to extraordinary results.
- Artistry and Taste Go Hand in Hand: His ability to combine artistic flair with exceptional taste was his hallmark. This serves as a reminder that food is not merely sustenance but a medium through which we can express creativity and evoke emotion.
- A Lasting Legacy: The impact Mesnier left on the culinary world will continue to inspire generations of pastry chefs and food enthusiasts. His work is a reminder that our contributions can endure long after we’re gone, shaping the future of our craft.
Roland Mesnier’s legacy lives on not only through his delectable confections but also through the countless chefs he mentored and the impact he had on elevating the art of pastry-making. His journey from a small village in France to the epicenter of American political and culinary power remains a testament to the transformative power of passion and skill. Chef Mesnier’s name has become synonymous with excellence in the pastry world, forever inspiring those who follow in his flour-dusted footsteps.