Roland Mesnier liked what he saw when he met Charlotte's Luis Rojas.
Mesnier came from France and rose to become executive pastry chef at the White House. Rojas came from Mexico when he was 13 and won a full scholarship to Johnson & Wales University last year.
Early Thursday, Rojas and Dale Richardson, his culinary instructor at East Mecklenburg High School, will head to Mount Vernon, Va., to help Mesnier with a giant project – building a gingerbread replica of George Washington's home. Mesnier served under five presidents before retiring in 2004.
Rojas and Richardson met Mesnier in October, when he came to Charlotte for a fundraiser at the Charlotte Museum of History to support East Meck's All-Star Teach Initiative. Mesnier also met with CMS culinary students and did a chocolate demonstration at East Meck.
Rojas graduated from East Meck last year and now is a baking and pastry student at the Johnson & Wales campus in Charlotte. He goes back to East Meck all the time, however, to work with students and help with events such as the fundraiser.
“I'm very fond of him,” Mesnier said Tuesday from Mount Vernon. “He's a tremendously nice young man. I am very harsh on the young people, I'm very hard core. So many do not do what they need to do.
“When I meet someone like him, I do everything possible so he will succeed in life. These are the kind of people I want to support. I think he will be a great chef.”
During his visit to Charlotte, Mesnier described the Mount Vernon gingerbread project and invited Rojas and Richardson to see how it's done.
Big gingerbread projects can take weeks to assemble. This one is 5 feet long and 2 feet wide, right down to confectionery replicas of portraits on the wall and marzipan versions of George and Martha.
Mesnier started work Nov. 12 and will finish Nov. 25. The house will be on display Nov. 28-Jan. 6 at Mount Vernon, about 15 miles south of Washington, D.C.
“I've never worked on one this size,” says Richardson. “It will be an education for me.”
On Tuesday, Richardson was rushing through getting her lesson plans in place so she can go. There's no money for plane tickets, so she and Rojas will leave in the middle of the night to reach Mount Vernon by mid-morning Thursday. Then they'll work with Mesnier Thursday and Friday before driving back.
“That's what you call determination,” she admits. “That's what you call ‘want to do it.' And we do.”