I was so thrilled and honored to work with the one and only Roland Mesnier this week, hosted by my friend Kathy Wise from Sweetwise behind the Nashville Palace. Roland was demonstrating his incredible talent of blown and pulled sugar and as luck would have it, needed an assistant. To be in this man’s presence was truly an honor. As his newest book, All the Presidents’ Pastries Twenty-five Years in the White House a Memoir states, He is a self-made man par excellence. He served five US presidents including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush. He is honorary President of the World Cup of Pastry and has published his recipes for all to enjoy in Dessert University and Basic to Beautiful Cakes.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I met Roland Mesnier, but I was a little worried his style would be more like Hell’s Kitchen than the warm and humble place it actually was. It was mentioned that when chefs yell and scream orders at their charges that they are possibly making up for what they lack in their own skills. They make up for their shortcomings by putting fear in their students. Roland Mesnier refuses to be known in that way.
He thanked ME several times for being there to help him…imagine that!! He asked politely for damp towels and tools and insisted upon fetching his own drinks and lunch. He is not to be waited on, though there were several who would have jumped off a bridge had he asked. (You know who you are!) He walked into the kitchen at one point as I was scrubbing pots with sticky masses of sugar in the bottoms and said, “This sugar stuff…it’s a lot of work, no?” and laughed when I agreed. He showed me a few tricks and an easier way to clean them in the meantime.
I, along with the rest of the class, was captivated by his words and stories. I hung onto everything as to remember it when I got home in my own environment to try by myself. His words were the most important as he showed lesson after lesson. He cooked sugar to an amber color-not with a candy thermometer (zay cannot be trusted!) and blew sugar from a piece of brakeline (you do not need expensive tools to be great!). He told us that his favorite store for sugar inspiration was the dollar store (of all places!) and he didn’t want anyone to copy his work. “Watch what I do and make it your own. Do not do MY work, do your work. Yours might be better!”
Roland Mesnier has probably forgotten more than I will ever know about working with sugar. I don’t know whether I will ever be good at it. I don’t know whether I will ever attempt it for a wedding or celebration, but I do know that I am more open to the idea after being so inspired by his encouragement. I wish to thank him and thank Kathy for the incredible opportunity to get to know him for even a short time. Roland, I will enjoy your story and I will never forget the pain is only the good kind, even as it burns off my fingerprints.
In Roland’s words:
Never forget where and for whom you are working.
Stay hopeful and keep smiling, even when it hurts, when it really hurts.
Don’t let a compliment go to your head (Baby). Remain humble.
Take care of your colleagues on your way up, you may find you need them on your way down.