Longtime White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier dies at 78

·3-min read

Roland Mesnier, the French-born longtime pastry chef at the White House whose whimsical confections served five American presidents, has died at age 78, relatives told AFP Sunday.

The culinary master -- who joined the presidential mansion's staff in 1979 under Jimmy Carter and worked there until his 2004 retirement during George W. Bush's tenure -- died Friday in the US state of Virginia, his son George and older sister Genevieve Guyez Mesnier said.

"I have such fond memories of Chef Mesnier," former first lady Hillary Clinton said Saturday in a Twitter post.

"He loved making people smile with his beautiful creations, including his famous gingerbread houses at Christmas," she added. "He will be missed!"

Mesnier, a French citizen who became a naturalized American, served as White House executive pastry chef for 25 years.

"His passion, commitment, and love for his work will always be remembered," the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute said.

Mesnier was born in Bonnay, a small village in eastern France, into a modest family of nine children. After serving his apprenticeship in the nearby city of Besancon, he worked in large hotels in Germany, Britain and Bermuda before the Carters hired him.

After hanging up his white hat and chef's jacket, he published several books and spoke extensively about his White House experience.

- Anecdotes -

In a 2013 television interview he recounted that Rosalynn Carter had asked him what he planned to cook in the kitchens of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue should he be hired.

Lots of low-calorie desserts, he replied. "Mrs Carter was a very pretty lady, very slim, so I (thought to myself) this is a trick question."

His answer was the right one, he figured, "because she said to her secretary: 'This is the guy I want and I want him as soon as possible.'"

Mesnier was also known to dish about the culinary proclivities of the presidents and their families, to whom he served a broad array of fruit pies, wedding cakes, souffles and cookies.

George W. Bush was a lover of pecan ice cream and "the most impatient man I've ever seen," while Nancy Reagan was a "total perfectionist," he said.

Bill Clinton was allergic "to sugar, flour and chocolate" but nevertheless a massive dessert fan, according to Mesnier. So the chef struggled to come up with recipes that satisfied the president's sweet tooth without the offending ingredients.

And while he expressed deep fondness for the Carters, he cringed in recalling a recipe the first lady brought from Georgia: a ring of sticky cheeses mixed with anchovies, with strawberry jam in the center.

"Mrs Carter always checked if the thing was on the table," he said. "It was, but nobody ever touched it."

Upon his 2004 retirement, Mesnier, who was married to an American, told AFP he had been torn between his adoptive country and his native land the previous year when tensions spiked over France's refusal to support Bush's war in Iraq, which led some Americans to rename french fries "freedom fries."

"It saddened me a lot," Mesnier said. "I am still a French patriot at heart, and an American at the same time."

ari-iba/mlm/bbk