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Roland Mesnier, White House pastry chef for five U.S. presidents, dies

Roland Mesnier, who created often-magical desserts for five presidents and their guests as the White House’s executive pastry chef, has died. He was 78.

Mesnier’s death was confirmed Saturday by the White House Historical Assn., which said he died Friday after a short illness.

One of the longest-serving White House chefs, Mesnier was hired in 1979 by First Lady Rosalynn Carter and retired during the George W. Bush administration nearly 27 years later.

Answering questions in an online “Ask the White House” forum in 2004, he explained that in preparing desserts not just for the first family but for parties, receptions and dinners, he was often called on to make thousands of pastries. He said he planned the number according to who would be in attendance.

“Over the 25 years I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that Democrats usually eat more than Republicans,” Mesnier said. “I’ve also observed that if the guests are mostly ladies, they will usually eat more pastries than men.”

Among the hundreds of pastries he made — from stunning cakes to decadent chocolates — he claimed he never served the same dessert twice.

At Christmas, he was known for the elaborate gingerbread houses he made to help decorate the White House. He said he also needed to make more pastries than usual for holiday parties because some tended to “disappear into pocketbooks or pockets” and often ended up as Christmas tree ornaments in people’s homes.

Mesnier grew up in Bonnay, a village in eastern France, in a family of nine children and began his career as an apprentice at age 14. White House archives describe him leaving home with a cardboard suitcase and five francs to begin his apprenticeship at the Patisserie Maurivard in Besançon, France.

He later worked in Paris and the German cities of Hanover and Hamburg before landing a job at the Savoy Hotel in London.

In 1967, he became a pastry chef at a hotel in Bermuda and while living on the island met his future wife, a vacationing schoolteacher from West Virginia. A decade later, he was working at the Homestead Resort in Virginia when he heard that the White House was looking for a new pastry chef.

First Lady Laura Bush with White House chef Roland Mesnier in 2006.

(Ron Edmonds / Associated Press)

When asked in 2004 about working at the White House, he said: “You don’t think about free time, spare time, et cetera. Because your time is at the White House. Anytime you are needed, you have to be there.”

“It could be Christmas Day, Easter, your birthday, your mother’s birthday, your child’s birthday — you are going to be at the White House if you are needed,” he said.

“The White House always comes first.”

After retiring from the White House, Mesnier published a memoir, “All the President’s Pastries,” in English and French. Two cookbooks followed.

He is survived by his son, George Mesnier. His wife died in January.

A Times staff writer contributed to this story.

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