FRIDAY, APR. 27: Chef Roland Mesnier describes his spell working as a pastry chef for Bermuda’s two Princess hotels in the 60s and 70s, as the perfect stepping-stone to his illustrious 26-year career in the kitchens of the White House.
Next Saturday, the French-born chef will be on the island to recall his years at the “legendary Princess Bermuda”, as well as sharing fascinating anecdotes from his years working for American Presidents as far back as Jimmy Carter.
He is giving a dinner speech at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess for an event being organized by the charity Alliance Française Des Bermudes and he will also prepare one of his famous desserts on the evening.
A challenging President
Chef Mesnier has hundreds of interesting tales to tell including a certain incident with President Bill Clinton. The President was allergic to flour, chocolate and dairy products, which presents quite a challenge for a chef specialising in desserts.
“He was allergic to all these things but he also has a very sweet tooth — he loved dessert.” Chef Mesnier told the Bermuda Sun.
“I remember a time I made for him a special low calorie strawberry cake. There was a time at the White House when he was eating alone a lot, if you recall the Lewinski times?
“He sat and ate half of that cake by himself. The next day we did another desert but he asked the butler to find him the left- over strawberry cake from the night before because he loved it so much.
“The butler went on the rampage searching all the refrigerators in the White House and he could not find the strawberry cake!
“He came back and said ‘Mr President I’m sorry, I can not find it’. The butler told me, he said: ‘You know Roland, I have never seen the President so mad — he was pounding on the table that he wanted his cake and that he should find that cake, he was paying for that cake, he wanted to know who stole that cake!’
“We never found it — that was a very funny episode.”
Chef Mesnier must have had a lasting impression at the White House as he still hears from many of the Presidents and First Ladies he served for.
Just a couple of weeks ago he was invited to dine with the Bushes at their Texas ranch, while he still hears from Mrs Carter and Mrs Reagan. When Bill Clinton released his memoirs he invited the chef to bring his latest cookbook and share his book-signing event.
The chef returns to Bermuda as often as possible and was here just a couple of years ago for a reunion trip with former Princess employees. The Alliance invited him to talk for his coming visit.
“Of course, any excuse to come back to Bermuda — it is like a second home for me. It is a one of a kind place. I hope it will always be what Bermuda represents — a little piece of paradise where peace exists, beautiful countryside and the best beaches in the world.”
His spell at the Princesses, as well as time as the pastry chef at the Governor’s Mansion, saw him rub shoulders with plenty of dignitaries including the Queen no less. During her visit to the island in 1975, he created a model of the Southampton Princess made entirely out of sugar. He is extremely proud of his time at the Princess.
“It was regarded as the Hotel in those years. It was well regarded around the world and I’m so proud to have been a part of that. The Princess was just a stepping-stone away from the White House. We used to exhibit at all the New York shows.”
Chef Mesnier has won 18 gold medals, four silver and three bronze for his pastry creations in competitions around the world including the French Legion of Honour in 2005 (the highest honour bestowed on a French citizen). Copies of his fourth cook book will be available at the event.
Asked what he thought about Bermuda’s restaurants in general during his last visit, he told us: “I was pretty disappointed about what was going on. I think — it needs to do some revision on its food. First of all it is too expensive for what they serve. I understand that they import everything but it is no call to be that price. The preparation of the food is also very mediocre. Food is very important when people travel and it used to be affordable and excellent. Bermuda needs to buck up its ideas.”Where: Fairmont Hamilton Princess
When: Saturday, May 5
Time: Cocktails from 7pm, dinner at 8pm
Tickets: On sale at Pulp & Circumstance. They are $110 for members or $125 for non-members. Tables can be booked for 8 to 10.