Saturday benefit to be food a la White House

He grew up poor in a French house with no electricity and would spend 25 years in America's most powerful house.

Until 2004, Roland Mesnier was executive White House pastry chef, serving five presidents and first families.

His intricate desserts were devoured by world leaders.

In his charge, no dessert was ever repeated at state dinners. No dish reached a table without him tasting it, and no mousse cake, scoop of ice cream, tart or pie was served that wasn't from his kitchen.

On Saturday, as Americans prepare to elect a new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Mesnier will be at the Charlotte Museum of History to direct a black-tie dinner fit for a president – or king or prime minister.

The event will raise money for the museum and East Mecklenburg High's All-Star Teacher Initiative, a program designed to recruit and keep quality teachers.

He'll oversee a four-course meal that follows strict White House protocol. East Meck's culinary students will help. They'll set tables with dinner china designed for Woodrow Wilson's White House.

On Friday, Mesnier will lecture CMS high school culinary students on the rigors of being a world-renowned chef.

“I truly want the students helping with the dinner to know what it's like to be working in the White House,” Mesnier said. “I want them to be shaking in their boots, just like I was when I started there.

“Perfection is no accident.”

Apprentice at $1 a month

Perfection took Mesnier years of long days.

He was raised with eight siblings in Bonnay, France, a village of 140. As a boy, food was short and he'd spend days in the pastry shop run by his brother Jean. “He gave me the taste of doing pastry,” he said.

At 14, Mesnier began a three-year pastry apprenticeship. He earned $1 a month, mostly scrubbing floors and washing pots the first year. One day, the chef showed him how to make a croissant. “You never forget when you make your first croissant,” he said.

Passing his apprenticeship, he began hopping around the globe, always looking to expand his skills. He worked in Paris, Germany and the famed Savoy Hotel in London.

In 1976, he moved to The Homestead resort in Virginia. Three years later, after creating more than 550 desserts, he heard first lady Rosalynn Carter was looking for a pastry chef. He applied, and Carter offered him the job.

“It's a shock today that I got the job,” he said. “I'm still not sure it happened.”

Reagan chocolate on the sly

His White House stories are many.

The Carters only had desserts when guests were in the White House – otherwise they ate fresh fruit.

Ronald Reagan loved chocolate anything, but wife Nancy wouldn't let him eat it. “When she was out of town, I always made him a big bowl of chocolate mousse,” he said.

Bill Clinton was allergic to chocolate, dairy products and flour. Yet, he loved fruit pies.

Mesnier would research powerful White House guests to create tailor-made desserts.

For the president of Mexico, he made a dessert shaped like a cactus. For Kenya's leader, he created a giraffe. He made chocolate coaches for the queen of England.

For his Charlotte guests Saturday, he'll serve a new creation.

“It will be like they stepped into the dining room of the White House,” he said. “Right down to the famous White House chocolate mint candies wrapped in gold paper.”