Food

A Massive Collection of White House Dessert Molds Is Hitting the Auction Block

Roland Mesnier, pastry chef to five presidents, is parting with his life's work.

Chef Mesnier's American eagle dessert mold. Photo courtesy of The Potomack Company.

After 25 years, five presidents, thousands of events, and countless sorbets, former White House Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier is letting go of his dessert molds—a trove of more than 300 accessories that he personally collected and used to create elaborate, sugary delicacies for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes, their families, and many notable guests. 

On Sept. 28, The Potomack Company in Alexandria is auctioning Mesnier’s entire dessert mold collection. Some molds will be sold individually, and some will be grouped into lots. Prices will be determined as the bidding begins.

There’s a peach mold that Mesnier used to make a sorbet for Princess Diana in 1985. A Statue of Liberty, a Big Ben, a fish, an asparagus, a giraffe, and many more. 

Mesnier made many of the molds himself, like the Queen of England’s coach that he carved out of wood. He also spent countless afternoons scouring flea markets and auctions. Some of the antiques he found required repairs. He searched for detailed, creative pieces, many of which came from Europe. Selling them now, he says, is “like giving up my children.” Why is he saying goodbye? “It’s very simple,” he says. “I’m getting old.”

He hopes their new owners appreciate their history. “Anybody can come to me and ask me questions,” he says. “If you buy one of the molds and you’d like to know the story of it, you come to me. I’ll give you all the time in the world to explain.”

For one of George H.W. Bush’s birthday celebrations, Mesnier used his American eagle mold to make an ice cream dessert. Moments before the party began, Bush, expecting to see a giant ice cream eagle, asked Mesnier where it was. “Sir, you’re too late,” Mesnier remembers saying to the President. One of Bush’s grandchildren had already bitten off the head. “That was funny for some people that day, but not for everybody,” Mesnier says. “President Bush Sr. didn’t think it was funny.”

The French chef’s time on Pennsylvania Avenue began when First Lady Rosalynn Carter hired him in 1979. “My mind was completely absorbed with making quality work,” he says. “I would redo and redo as many times as I had to until perfection or near perfection was achieved.” President Reagan, he recalls, loved pointing out his creations and explaining them to his dinner guests. “He was so into those desserts,” Mesnier says, adding, “I was very impressed—the most powerful man in the world is talking dessert!”

After 25 years, Mesnier became the longest tenured chef to serve first families, leaving with many sweet stories which he’s recounted in his eight books. In his latest, White House Desserts, Mesnier adapts his recipes for at-home kitchens—perhaps useful to whoever ends up with those molds.  

 

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Editorial Fellow

Anne Tate, originally from Annapolis, MD, joined Washingtonian in July 2021. She is a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she studied journalism and psychology.