A Pastry Chef's Sweet Memories (and Some Crusty Ones, Too)

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Bill Yosses, the new executive pastry chef at the White House, might want to thumb through "All the Presidents' Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House," the new behind-the-scenes memoir by Roland Mesnier, who served five presidents before retiring in 2004. Mesnier loved Chelsea and the Bushes; Nancy Reagan, not so much. A few favorite tidbits:

WHEN HIRED BY ROSALYNN CARTER, the French national was whisked off to meet with a government official for what turned out to be a quickie citizenship test. Mesnier flubbed most of the questions, and the annoyed bureaucrat asked if he even knew the name of the president. " 'Of course I know. I cook for him every day. It's Jimmy Carter.' 'Well done,' he congratulated me. 'You've passed.' "

AT CAMP DAVID, CARTER showed off his fishing gear. "Mr. President, why do you take so much trouble to tie flies when everyone knows trout love cheese?" Mesnier asked. Carter said that fishing with cheese "wasn't sport but organized suicide." Carter didn't know that the Secret Service regularly released hundreds of trout into the river to keep him happy.

IN THE OVAL OFFICE, PRINCE CHARLES ordered tea and was served hot water and a cup with a teabag -- but never touched it. Ronald Reagan asked him what was wrong. The prince said, "I didn't know what to do with the little bag." He had never seen one in his life.

MESNIER SUGGESTED FOUR dessert ideas to Nancy Reagan for a dinner honoring Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. "Characteristically," he recalls, all were rejected without explanation. Instead, she demanded elaborate sugar baskets with sugar tulips, orange sorbet and petit fours. "I stared at Mrs. Reagan: 'Madam, there are just two days left and I'm alone in the kitchen.' She said: 'Roland, you have two days and two nights .' "

BARBARA BUSH TYPICALLY began each day in the White House pool, in mask, snorkel and flippers. One day, "a rat swam into view in front of her mask. Mrs. Bush leapt out of the water and went screaming into the White House." George H.W. Bush himself dealt with the "unfortunate rodent," but Mesnier doesn't reveal how.

FOR A VISIT to Kennebunkport by French President Francois Mitterrand, the French secret service asked that the toilet seats be replaced.

DURING A 1994 STATE DINNER, Barbra Streisand passed Mesnier and a sous-chef on the way to the powder room. "We both greeted her: 'Good evening, Ms. Streisand.' We were completely ignored. Not even so much as a glance. We were merely flunkies, or worse."

MESNIER WAS ASKED to prepare a Clinton family dessert: "An atrocious concoction of Cola-Cola-flavored jelly served with black glace cherries. Personally, I could think of nothing more appalling, but I bowed to family tradition."

LAURA BUSH "loved things set in straight lines and was equally direct in her dealings with people. She hated cluttered tabletops, little vases, and framed photographs scattered all over the place."

FOR THE 2002 GOVERNORS' DINNER, Mesnier made blown-sugar elephants and donkeys holding sugar trays with a frozen dessert. "The Democrats set about decapitating the elephants, and the Republicans retaliated by guillotining the Democratic donkeys."

There She Is, Miss . . . taken Identity

Oh, the demands on a celebrity! The fans clamoring for a signature, the kooks offering unsolicited advice, the invalids desperate for a healing touch. Vanessa Williams knows them all -- as well as the occasional unexpected perks (hotel upgrades, etc.).

Which is kind of hilarious, considering that she's just a journalist who works right here at The Washington Post with us.

It's happened to her for more than 20 years, ever since a certain someone became the first black woman crowned Miss America, while our colleague was embarking on her reporting career. "I would call someone and say, 'This is Vanessa Williams from the Philadelphia Inquirer,' and they would say, 'Ohh! Are you the Vanessa Williams?!' No, I'm not Miss America!"

Now that the actress-singer's career is soaring again (via a starring role in ABC's "Ugly Betty"), the journalist is getting warm wishes and autograph requests via her Post e-mail account. A Texas woman expressed outrage that Williams lost her crown in '84 after nude pix surfaced, whereas this year's scandal-plagued Miss USA kept hers. ("Thank you for being a good example in so many ways.") A dialysis patient wrote that "your songs have truly touched my heart deep inside."

Sweet, really. If completely and heartbreakingly clueless.

Meanwhile, congratulations to our Vanessa Williams (pictured here along with her no-relation-to), who was just promoted to assistant metro editor -- and who swears there are no pictures floating around out there . . .

Readers Tell Us . . .

Lita writes: Every journalist should ask themselves before writing an article: "Who cares?" The sole purpose of writing [Tuesday's item about rats "the size of small house cats" overtaking XM radio's headquarters] was so that you could show how witty you guys are, but it just came off as corny and stupid and pointless. As a friend of someone who works at XM, I know that the "internal memo" was not something that was to be shared with anyone.

Exactly! Which is why we're so grateful that someone shared it with us. Send all your tips, complaints and internal memos to reliablesource@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company