Roland Mesnier Thought He Would Be Fired From The White House Over This Dish

Even world leaders have favorite treats. The Queen is famously a fan of chocolate biscuit cake (via TODAY). According to household baking name Wilton, most U.S. presidents have had a historic sweet tooth. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, screamed for ice cream; Abe Lincoln fancied plain white cake; Grover Cleveland was a snickerdoodle man.

It's unlikely that anybody has as much knowledge about the presidents and their dessert preferences as French pastry chef Roland Mesnier. For 26 years, Mesnier served presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush and all of their prestigious guests as the White House Executive Pastry Chef. During that quarter-of-a-century — the longest tenure of any White House chef — Mesnier never served the same dessert twice, per The Washington Post. The chef was a member of the prestigious Academie Culinaire de France, an inductee in New York's Chocolate Hall of Fame, earned a Doctorate in Culinary Arts, and was awarded 18 gold medals for his creations.

"When you are at the White House, I noticed that 'oops' should never be used at any time," said Mesnier, via Erin Bakes. "I always double-checked and triple-checked the recipes and the outcome and if there was an imperfection, we just did not serve it." But one evening in 1991, during George H. W. Bush's administration, disaster nearly struck. Per the John F. Kennedy Library, Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik of Denmark were coming to dinner and hot raspberry soufflé was on the menu.

The raspberry soufflé wouldn't set up

Soufflés are notoriously difficult to get right. The yolks need to be completely separated from the whites, reports NPR, and just the right amount of air needs to be whipped into them. It's a delicate dance — which, ordinarily, wouldn't be a problem for a master like Mesnier, who planned to prepare 22 large servings. (Or, according to the John F. Kennedy Library, it might have been 25. Mesnier changed the story slightly depending on when it's told, but either way, there were going to be a lot of soufflés.) The dish would take an hour and 20 minutes to bake, but Mesnier prepped and perfected a perfect recipe ahead of time so he would be ready for the dinner, per The White House Historical Association, even pre-measuring the ingredients.

But as Mesnier and his staff whipped and whipped (literally 90 egg whites at a time), the egg whites would not stiffen. They wouldn't even foam. His team scrapped the batch and started again — the same story. Time was passing, and the President and his dinner guests were growing impatient. 

Mesnier saves the day

"[I thought] I'm going to be late. And at the White House, you cannot be late," the chef recounted, via the John F. Kennedy Library. "When it's time to go serve the dessert or the main course, the only words the butler wants to hear is 'pick up, pick up.' Don't tell them any excuses."

At the final second, as a last-resort time saver, Mesnier added normal, raw sugar instead of cooked sugar into his soufflés (a shortcut he never used before, per Erin Bakes) and blasted the baking dishes in the oven at three times the normal heat. And it totally worked. The soufflés arrived at the presidential dessert table right on time. The chef credits his years of experience for the stroke of genius. Mesnier trusted his instinct to make the soufflé success possible — advice he passes on to today's chefs. "Be true to yourself. Don't try to reinvent the wheel like many chefs are doing today," said Mesnier. "And stop congratulating yourself. Let the customer do that. That's where the real congratulations will come."