Former presidential pastry chef Roland Mesnier dies at 78: NPR

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Roland Mesnier was the White House pastry chef for 25 years under five different presidents. Mesnier died last week at the age of 78.



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It can be quite terrifying to show off your baking in front of knowledgeable judges, as any fan of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ knows.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF”)

PAUL HOLLYWOOD: I don’t like the outdoors. I think your piping work is not good.

PRUE LEITH: But I have to say I think it’s a nice cake. If you close your eyes, it’s a beautiful sponge cake.

SHAPIRO: OK, now imagine doing this for almost 25 years, only your judge isn’t Paul Hollywood. She’s the first lady.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You now have an idea of ​​the hard work of Roland Mesnier as the pastry chef of the White House. In more than two decades of service, he has prepared desserts for five presidents, their first ladies, and countless dignitaries and guests. Mesnier died last week in palliative care. He was 78 years old.

SHAPIRO: His life began in the small town of Bonnay, in eastern France, as World War II was coming to an end. He was the seventh of nine children. At that time, everything was rare. He explained to an audience at the JFK Museum in Boston in 2019 that there was no running water or electricity.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROLAND MESNIER: No TV.

(LAUGH)

MESNIER: Not what you call blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, whatever.

(LAUGH)

CHANG: But the love for baking was in abundance. One of his brothers ran a bakery. Another had a pastry. At 14, Mesnier became an apprentice baker.

SHAPIRO: From there his career took him to Paris, Hamburg and London. Eventually, he became a pastry chef at a resort in Virginia. And in 1979, a representative of the first lady approached him with a job offer.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MESNIER: You know, Mrs. Rosalynn Carter is looking for a pastry chef. I said, fine. Keep watching.

(LAUGH)

MESNIER: You don’t want to go? I said, no, I have no desire. I don’t want to go to Washington because they’re crazy there.

(LAUGH)

MESNIER: I’m not going.

CHANG: Well, he went – to the White House. There, Mesnier was demanding and hard. His motto was perfection is no coincidence.

Bill Yosses served as White House pastry chef for seven years after Mesnier retired in 2004. He says his predecessor’s work was incredibly creative.

BILL YOSSES: He didn’t rehearse the desserts. Every occasion had something new.

SHAPIRO: Yosses says Mesnier was also confident in his pastries — a must at a high-pressure gig like the White House.

YOSSES: Remember, you often deal with the social secretary, you know, and, of course, the first family – the first lady herself and the president. So if you can’t sell it, you can’t really thrive there.

CHANG: After leaving the White House, Mesnier published several books. His first was a memoir titled, rather appropriately, “All the President’s Pastries.”

SHAPIRO: Roland Mesnier, pastry chef to five presidents, died last week of complications from cancer. He was 78 years old.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

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