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Two books by Two White House chefs,

Ballottine's picture

 


I have just finished reading two books by two former White House Chefs.


All the President's Pastries, a Memoir by Roland Mesnier


First, disclaimer: I have taken classes from Roland and I adore him and his recipes.  He is very good at what he does, and I know him as a very warm and funny person. 


I did not care for the book very much.  It is basically a list of Official and State Dinners during his quarter of the century at the White House and mouthwatering description of his desserts without recipes or any kind of instructions.  Some of them are incredible, but he gives very few pictures and even less recipes, instead he ends each description with:"It was received well."   I can't imagine Yo Yo Ma or Josh Bell  play music and say: "It was received well."  Most of the pictures are also of him with members the first families, not of his creations.


Nevertheless, there is some fun read; he calls Nancy Reagan an iron first lady, who never praised anyone. The highest compliment from her was: "Every thing was fine."  She was in the habit of changing everything, even flower or fruit arrangements as she passed by them.


For each important dinner Roland researched the country’s and visiting dignitary's customs and tastes. Sometimes he got into trouble for that. During the visit by the  Italian prime minister, a known chocoholic, Nancy banned chocolate from dessert.  “I am the only one who decides what we serve at the WH.” she said.


When Queen of Netherlands came to the White House Nancy made serious changes in the dessert menu.  Roland said to her:” Madam, there are just two days left and I am alone in the kitchen."  Her reply was: "You have two days and two nights."


Roland does not elaborate on how Nancy reacted to the "dessert disaster" during the Mitterrand's visit: 


The dessert was: red-wine sorbet prepared in a savarin mold and surrounded with freshly poached peaches.  These were placed in front of sugar decorations: a branch of blossom with cardinal, the state bird of Virginia, perched on each one. The top of ech sorbet was  decorated with lacy swirls of white chocolate contrasting prettily with the purplish red of the sorbet. Each table of ten guests got one of these.


Somehow on the way upstairs the waiter fell down.  This particular platter ended up on Julia Child's table who described it in the press as "a pile of broken multicolored bits of sugar, that neither beautiful to look at nor good to eat."


Another interesting tid bit:  Many of us remember how Nancy was dissed for her new china, yet who knew that she ordered wrong  dishes because she did not consult  the ushers and the chefs, and, they still did not have all the dishes they needed for service. 


Roland says food for the WH is picked up by the Secret Service drivers in unmarked vans, suppliers do not know where it is going to.


Roland  ends his book with Ten Golden Rules for my Successor.  The first one: Never forget where and for  whom you are working. And the ninth is: Never forget, whatever your professional title, that you are simply a servant at the White House...Somehow that "servant" shocked me...


He does not gossip about the first families, nor does he refer to the sexual harassment he was accused off during his White House years.


White House Chef by Walter Scheib is a very different kind of memoir. 


Lots and lots of recipes and stories about the first families.  His description of Hillary he knew and worked for made me look at her with different eyes; she comes through as a real human being, efficient, but thoughtful and rather nice.  (Never thought I would say that.) 


When entertaining Hillary wanted the best American food and wine, she wanted American food to shine, while Laura's mantra for entertaining was: "serve food that is generous, flavorful, and identifiable, she did not want ingredients cut so finely that you can't discern one from another.  She did not want anything that could be perceived as "highbrow,"  for example,  she allowed the 25-year-balsamic reduction, but it could not be mentioned on the menu."


For special occasion events Hillary invited accomplished artists, Laura prefers military bands.


Foodwise, W and Laura don't fare as well as Clintons.


Clinton had lots of allergies, and got most of his lunches from the cafeteria for WH staff, the only time he used the kitchen staff for lunch was when Hillary was away and he could order tabu foods.


Because W came to kitchen everyday asking:"What's for lunch?"  and was never happy with the menu to satisfy him  WH kitchen every day they prepared all of his favorites:  BLT, grilled cheese sandwich with Kraft singles on white bread, peanut butter and honey sandwich, hamburger between medium and medium rare on a bun with letuce and tomato on the side


W  "...wanted his food to hit the table at the same time as his posterior hit the chair."  He eats very quickly even when he has company.


W does not eat "wet fish" (poached or steamed) and he does not eat anything green.  When the Hall of Fame baseball players were invited to the WH for their annual lunch Mrs. Bush approved Crispy Shrimp with Roasted Artichokes and Wild Sorrel Soup as a first course.


...As soon as butlers set the President's plate before him the President said something like,” What’s this? Something that washed up on the shore?" The butlers immediately cleared the table and the guests had no idea what was going on. 


(The soup recipe is in the book, and list of ingredients includes fennel pollen - anybody knows what it is?)


Scheib says Laura Bush fired him because she wanted country club kind of food, and her Social Secretary wanted Scheib not only to cook Martha Stewart recipes, but to present food Martha's way. He says he did what he was told. (I guess he lacked the enthusiasm).


I actually enjoyed  Scheib'sbook very much and this summer I am going to try his recipes.  Bal


 


So much to cook; so little time.

 

So much to cook; so little time.

jaq's picture

(post #62841, reply #1 of 12)

Thanks for the interesting reviews! I saw the pastry chef give an interview on the Daily Show- sounds like life "below the stairs" at the WH can get pretty interesting, but he did not gossip at all.

Ballottine's picture

(post #62841, reply #2 of 12)

He does tell amusing stories when there is no mike, and he mimics people well, so he is very funny, but he is very protective of  the privacy of the first families.  However, the Prince Charles and the tea bag story is in the book.


When Charles visited  President Reagan in the Oval Office he asked for a cup of tea.  The butler brought him a tray with a pot of hot water, slices of lemon, and a cup with tea bag in it.  The Prince of Wales did not touch it.  After dinner the president asked the Prince about the tea and the Prince replied:"I did not know what to do with the little bag."


Bal


 


 


So much to cook; so little time.

 

So much to cook; so little time.

Lee's picture

(post #62841, reply #3 of 12)

They both sound very interesting.  I'll look for them at the library.


Nancy's reputation was that of a cold and haughty despot who demanded nothing less than obeisance from the staff and insisted on controlling every detail of every detail.  Appreciation and warmth apparently weren't in her lexicon.  I know folks who worked for the Clinton WH and who have told me that Hillary was very warm and thoughtful to the staff and was well liked.


At the risk of sounding snobbish, I'm not at all surprised at the picture of the Bush WH.  Laura strikes me as a very nice and unassuming lady, but quite unsophisticated.  What I have trouble understanding is how a man with W's patrician background could turn out to be a "cowboy" with virtually no refinement.  

TracyK's picture

(post #62841, reply #4 of 12)

I caught the Bushes joint taped message on American Idol last night and I was shocked at how much Laura has aged. She looked awful, quite frankly.


She's always struck me as a nice-looking woman (if one with questionable taste in husbands), but she really looked terrible. I hope the camera just caught her on a bad day.


CT poster in bad standing since 2000.

Lee's picture

(post #62841, reply #5 of 12)

Maybe it was bad lighting.  I too have always thought she is a very pretty woman.  I wish she would change her style in clothes, though.  I think she looks matronly and kind of dumpy most of the time (meow meow).  She could be stunning in the right clothes. 

MadMom's picture

(post #62841, reply #6 of 12)

Poor Laura.  I'm from Texas, of course, so when Dubya first ran for the White House, I told my husband that I didn't mind him so much, but could not stand the thought of four years of her as first lady.  Now, of course, I want to retch every time I see him on the TV and seriously, don't see her as that bad.  As Tracy said, terrible taste in men, but she seems like a decent enough lady.  I suppose opposites attract?  She's a librarian, and he is proud of the fact that he doesn't read. 



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Ballottine's picture

(post #62841, reply #7 of 12)

The word around here is that things are rotten on W's homefront.  D and  C words are mentioned.  Who knows...Bal

 


So much to cook; so little time.

 

So much to cook; so little time.

Lee's picture

(post #62841, reply #8 of 12)

Really?  Well, I'm never happy to hear about people having marital problems, even Shrub.  I was very touched last night listening to a report on Regan's diary.  He and Nancy really did have had one of the great love affairs of our time.  She was never one of my favorite First Ladies, although I admired her taste and style, but I feel sad for her.  Being without her Ronnie must be very difficult.


What's D and C, other than a surgical procedure?

Ballottine's picture

(post #62841, reply #9 of 12)

Yes, it is always very sad...and  you are right,  Nancy and Ronnie were deeply in love. 


Check your email.  Bal


 


So much to cook; so little time.

 

So much to cook; so little time.

butterfingers's picture

(post #62841, reply #10 of 12)

The 6-month evening pastry course that I took at L'Academie de Cuisine was taught by Mark Ramsdell, who worked with Roland in the White House. Mark is amazing on several levels, and if I won the lottery and could quit my day job the first thing I would do is sign up for his full-time pastry course. One of my favorite aspects of the class was the asides Mark made on working at the White House. For example, he told us that Reagan's last dessert before leaving the White House was his favorite -- a raspberry and chocolate roulade. He also taught us how to make danish and petit fours the "White House" way -- small enough to not be awkward to eat, and not messy so nothing could drip on clothing. Never more than 1 or 2 bites.

He also told us about the White House roulade that everyone would eat even if they eschewed desserts. It was biscuit heavily soaked in a lemon simple syrup, rolled around lemon curd and fresh berries. He said to leave it in the refrigerator overnight and leave it uniced. I made a note in the corner of my book that I wanted to try it with tropical fruit and passion fruit curd. I have yet to do so, though.

He told us once that he was in the room where they stored all of the china, including the historic stuff, while decorating the White House gingerbread house. He said it was almost impossible to concentrate on the gingerbread house when surrounded by so many amazing things. I thought that must have been a dream job -- if you're good enough. I'm definitely not. But a girl can dream...

Ballottine's picture

(post #62841, reply #11 of 12)

Six month pastry class with Mark Ramsdell.... you are so lucky and you must be very good.  I wish you "shared" more, bet we could learn a lot from you. Years ago I took several of his evening classes and a full weekend class.  He was amazing. I still rely on techniques I learned from him.


As to the gingerbread  houses -- we were fortunate to admire them for 8 years in a row as the kids were growing up.  


Some of those WH kitchen stories are so funny and Mark used to tell funny ones about my then  boss Charles Z. Wick, one of two Reagan's best friends.


In a few days, May 8, Smithsonian is sponsoring Roland Mesnier's WH stories and tasting of his desserts, he says he is making first-family favorites. 


Pecan Bourbon Pie - Carter


Orange Flourless chocolate Cake - Reagan


Baked Apple Souffle - George H Bush


Cherries Jubilee - Clinton


Rhubab Parfait - George W


Finale:


Butter Brioche Pudding with Dried blueberris and Lemon Sauce - George W


Would you be there?  Bal


 


 


 


 


So much to cook; so little time.

 

So much to cook; so little time.

butterfingers's picture

(post #62841, reply #12 of 12)

Actually, I'm not that great at all. I learned a lot in the class, but I don't do it for a living so I don't get to practice. I would love to be a full-time pastry chef, but financially it is not in the cards for me. I keep thinking that when I retire I'll open a little boulangerie. But frankly, I'm just like most people here... I love to cook and bake and spend most of my free time and free money on it.