In the decade since he left his executive pastry chef post at the White House, Roland Mesnier has become renowned for divulging former first families’ culinary peccadilloes and second-guessing the executive kitchen’s current staff members, so it’s no surprise he favors fruit with bite.
“We are here to celebrate the famous kumquat!,” Mesnier proclaimed at the outset of a recent Southern Season cooking class.
Mesnier’s demonstration dessert menu included strawberry soufflé and Bailey’s Irish Cream ice cream (a recurrent hit at the White House, which made a big deal about St. Patrick’s Day even before a Chicagoan was in charge.) But it was the glazed kumquats preparation which allowed him to expound on his lifelong avoidance of artificial ingredients.
“I don’t like extract,” Mesnier said. “Don’t mention extract to me.”
Instead, Mesnier advised using glazed kumquats whenever a recipe calls for orange extract.
“Orange soufflé, crème brulee, whatever you want,” he said. “The kumquats even give me the orange color. And the flavor, it is out of this world. That is excellent, that is excellent, when you can do something this is totally, totally, totally natural.”
For 25 years, the French-born Mesnier served as executive pastry chef, retiring in 2004. Three years later, he published a memoir which revealed Barbara Bush insisted on serving overcooked fish and Rosalynn Carter forced him to make molded cheese rings with strawberry jam.
Between dispensing kitchen tool tips and fielding questions about flour, Mesnier retold a few of his more popular stories, including an anecdote about Bill Clinton always leaving the kitchen light on, and a tale involving Mikhail Gorbachev and an impounded shipment of caviar.
“During my time, we had six chefs,” Mesnier said, attributing the length of his tenure to his steady temperament. “I always saved the day, and that’s what’s important.”
Home cooks should try to cultivate the same calm confidence, according to Mesnier.
“My philosophy is very simple,” he said. “You open a bottle of wine first. Please, it works for me. I did it at the White House every day.”
Roland Mesnier’s Glazed Kumquats
1 qt. water
3 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
2 lb. fresh kumquats, washed, halved and seeded
1. Combine the water, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the kumquats, cover, turn the heat down and simmer until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the kumquats cool in the pan, covered, overnight.
2. Strain the kumquats and discard the syrup. Glazed kumquats will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to one month.