PW: Many of the recipes in Dessert University: More Than 300 Spectacular Recipes and Essential Lessons from White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier take calories into consideration. Is that because the White House family has requested healthy desserts?
I took that upon myself with Mrs. Rosalyn Carter, who hired me. I told her I intended to serve her a lot of low-calorie desserts without destroying the desserts. Some desserts cannot be low-calorie. The only way you can make it low-calorie is to serve a small portion. Like cheesecake. You're not going to do it with some lousy kind of cheese. You have to use a good cream cheese.
You've said that because of all the events occurring worldwide, there have been more working dinners and working lunches going on at the White House, and fewer state dinners. What does that mean for you as a pastry chef?
State dinners are a gala atmosphere where people have a great time. But working lunches and dinners are very serious. Usually the invited head of state is here for a very good reason, so the discussions are usually serious, and the atmosphere is not as light. Instead of having a dessert that is all out with a lot of decoration and a spectacular look, we'll tame it down. It's still going to be something elegant, but more serious. We do want to create something that will create smiles and comments.
Do you try to adapt the dessert to who will be eating it?
I will never try to reproduce a dessert from the visiting country; that would be a terrible mistake. But I like to follow the same flavor. Like if the country has a lot of exotic fruit, then I may go with a mango or coconut flavor. If the country is more European, I may go with coffee and chocolate, and maybe a little liqueur. We want to make them happy. I'm very much in tune with all the heads of state. We also have to watch out with diets and restrictions. If we have Israel, it must be kosher.
What kind of desserts does President Bush favor?
He likes very simple desserts, like cake and ice cream, angel food cake, carrot cake. President Bush does not like what we call frou frou dessert. He's a man, he's very straightforward. Mrs. Bush likes things more sophisticated if she has friends over. But we can marry those two styles together. We have to please everybody.
How about Clinton?
President Clinton was big on pies, good pies, chocolate cakes—he was allergic to chocolate, but that didn't stop him from eating chocolate. Mrs. Clinton enjoyed a good mocha cake.
You must have had a special relationship with the First Ladies during your time at the White House. Were any more hands-on than others?
Mrs. Reagan was really challenging, but I still thank her today. Because of her I expanded my repertoire tremendously. She was very particular about many things. I had to do a lot of research and make a lot of new recipes. She inspired me to research and research and research some more. I came to realize that Mrs. Reagan was a First Lady who would easily skip a main course to come to dessert. She had dessert at every meal. They were small, they were attractive, they were low-calorie. I realized most First Ladies liked desserts like that.
You write, "U.S. Presidents and heads of state went crazy for" your Silky Chocolate Cream Pie. Why?
It's loaded with calories. You have to throw a few curveballs in there to make things interesting. I wanted to say, okay, we'll do some low-calorie, but heads of state are like everybody else, and they like things that are loaded with calories. I've done that pie with every administration and every administration has embraced it with open arms. Good ingredients will always be a winner.