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French pastry chef to five US presidents Roland Mesnier dies aged 78

Chef Mesnier served 26 years at the White House. One of his mottos was ‘perfection is no accident’

A photo of the US White House and gardens on a nice day

Chef Mesnier served at the White House for more than 25 years and said he “still couldn’t believe it” when he walked in the famous gardens Pic: Vacclav / Shutterstock

Roland Mesnier, French pastry chef to five US presidents at the White House, has died at the age of 78, after 26 years of service. Hilary Clinton is among those to have paid tribute.

His family confirmed his death on Sunday, August 28. He died at an assisted living facility on Friday, August 26, in Virginia. He died of cancer, his son George Mesnier told AFP.

As White House Executive Pastry Chef, Chef Mesnier served Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush senior, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush junior. He left the White House in 2004 after 26 years of loyal service.

He was born in Bonnay, Besançon in France, and was one of nine children.

He first wanted to become a pastry chef after visiting his brother’s pastry shop in a nearby city. 

He later took on a six-day-a-week apprenticeship in a pastry shop in Besançon, and would go on to train further at large hotels in Germany, the UK (including The Savoy in London), and Bermuda, where he learned to speak English and German. 

He was hired as a pastry chef at the White House in 1979 by Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, after promising her that he would focus on lighter desserts using fruit. 

Although he would later become a US citizen, and marry Martha Whiteford, an American schoolteacher from West Virginia, he always kept his French accent.

One of his mottos was 'perfection is no accident', and he became known for his elaborate concoctions and sugar spinning. 

In one interview, he said: “That was my role in the White House, to put a smile on the face of the first family. If I could take away [the pressure they were under] for five minutes, then I did my job.”

Hillary Clinton, former United States Secretary of State and former First Lady as the wife of President Bill Clinton, was among those to pay tribute to Chef Mesnier.

She said: “I have such fond memories of Chef Mesnier. He loved making people smile with his beautiful creations, including his famous gingerbread houses at Christmas. He will be missed!”

The Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute also tweeted its condolences. It said: “We are sorry to hear of the passing of Roland Mesnier, who served as chef to the White House for 26 years and for 5 US Presidents, with 25 of those years as the White House Executive Pastry Chef. 

“His passion, commitment, and love for his work will always be remembered.”

Chef Mesnier wrote extensively about his time at the White House, and also revealed titbits about his presidential bosses.

These included:

  • The Carters were “a formidable couple”
  • George W. Bush loved pecan ice cream, but was “the most impatient man I’ve ever known”
  • Nancy Reagan was an “absolute perfectionist”, and “if she didn’t complain, that was a compliment”
  • Ronald Reagan loved chocolate mousse in particular
  • Bill Clinton was allergic to sugar, flour, milk, and milk chocolate, but still loved to eat dessert, so Chef Mesnier used to make special creations for him. He especially loved sour cherries
  • Hilary Clinton was partial to a mocha dessert, and the Clintons also used to like “an atrocious concoction of Coca-Cola-flavoured jelly served with black glacé cherries”

Chef Mesnier once said: “When I walk in the White House gardens, I still can’t believe I’m here.” 

In 2007, he told the Baltimore Sun newspaper one of his secrets: “Most people fall foul of baking because they are too uptight when they bake. I used to have a glass of wine before I baked. It worked for me. And if all else fails, just finish the bottle of wine.”

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