12 September 2009
Once again I had the great pleasure of working with pastry chef Roland Mesnier. For those of you who don't know of this unsung hero Chef Mesnier was the White House pastry chef for 26 years! He served through five administrations: Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II. Before Bush II finished his second term Chef Mesnier retired. He now promotes his two cookbooks "Basic to Beautiful Cakes" and "Dessert University". Both books are excellent and should be in any serious baker's collection. Chef Mesnier has a new coffee table book coming out next fall. The focus of this book is going to be more behind the scenes in the White House pastry kitchen rather than recipes.
Before class started I asked him if he had ever suffered any disasters at a state dinner or some such important event at the White House. "Never. There was never any room for a mistake. Recipes were tested, retested, and tested again before the dinners. If I ever caught anyone on my staff doing something other than the way I asked them to, then they were sent home immediately. There were no second chances...ever." Wow. That's hardcore. If you blow it, you're gone. That's what it is like when you work with the big dogs.
Fortunately our class this evening was not as intense as a state dinner. It went off without a hitch, thanks to Chef Christina dutifully programming the class on the dry erase board. Chef Mesnier and our staff had a wonderful time. Chef Mesnier is extremely talented yet very humble. His passion for his art is clearly evident in everything that he does. When he arrived to teach he came into the kitchen to see what was already done. He made a few corrections to some things and then put an apron on and got to work himself. He really likes being part of the crew rather than just putting on his show. He just loves what he does.
He deftly took the lead on the class and showed us a wonderful chocolate meringue mousse. This dessert was shockingly easy to make yet so, so very good. It is made by melting chocolate and then folding stiffly beaten and sweetened egg whites into it. The mousse is much lighter than a traditional mousse so if you are looking for a decadent but still fairly healthy dessert then this is the way to go. Daniyyel really liked it, too (but not as much as me, I'm just not going to post a picture of my dish room gluttony).
After the mousse he did poached peaches served with red wine sorbet and honey sabayon. Oh. My. God. This makes for the perfect hot weather dessert. Considering that Texas gets plenty of hot weather, some of the best peaches in the world, and fabulous local honey then this dessert just fits right in.
Next up was papaya stuffed with lime mousse and served atop raspberry purée and dotted with lime cream. The tropical essence cannot be missed here and the flavors play together so well. This is another thing that blows me away about Chef Mesnier; he is able to so expertly blend flavors without overloading the dessert with sugar. While all of his desserts were sweet, they were never cloyingly so.
Finally he did Boston Cream Cupcakes. The batter for the cakes was scented with lemon zest which really helped to bring the pastry cream to the forefront. Of course, the pastry cream itself was like silk. I wish that I had bed sheets that felt like that pastry cream. A simple chocolate ganache was piped on top and garnished with chopped peanuts. I think that Christina and I ate about 15 of these babies before we left for the night. Chef Mesnier served the cupcakes with a glass of prosecco and shared a toast with the class. He also acknowledged the professionalism of the our staff. I can't tell you how proud that made me feel; to have a chef of this caliber let us know how much he appreciated our skill and talent. Vive Chef Mesnier!