A pastry chef’s philosophy

Published in FSD Update

Former White House Chef Roland Mesnier says what others say about you is more valuable than what you believe about yourself.

Roland Mesnier, the 70-year-old, French-born pastry chef who spent 25 years baking for four different presidents in the White House, doesn’t pull many punches when he talks about the state of the foodservice industry. That certainly was evident last month when he spoke before about 100 college chefs and foodservice directors during the 2014 Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst.

In a half-hour after-dinner speech Mesnier skewered a number of groups for a variety of offenses, including culinary schools, which he claims by and large do not prepare chefs for the real world. (For the record, Mesnier is an Old World, old-school chef who still believes very strongly in the apprenticeship method of training.)

One of the other groups he criticized were celebrity chefs who spend, in his estimation, too much time promoting themselves and not enough time in the kitchens of their own restaurants. He offered a pithy plea to such chefs, and it’s something that really applies not only to chefs but to all foodservice professionals, in both restaurants and non-commercial foodservice.
Mesnier told his audience: “Don’t tell me how good you are. Let your customers tell me.”

Now, anyone who has met Chef Roland or heard him speak knows that the man is not against self-promotion. He is not shy about touting his pastry skills and has written five books about baking and pastry making. But his message was clear: What you say about yourself and your operation is not necessarily as accurate, or as meaningful, as what others think of your abilities and the quality of your restaurant or foodservice department. You need to communicate with your customers and listen to your critics because they are the ones who control your professional fate.

Ego plays a big part in the foodservice industry, just as it does in the publishing business. A healthy ego is what drives most people to excel; belief in our abilities is a necessary component of success.

But starting to think you are better than your press clippings, so to speak, is often a sign that you have become out of touch with the people on whose business you depend for your livelihood. That’s the takeaway from Chef Roland’s two-sentence plea, and it’s something that we all can take to heart.

chefs, training

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
star wars storm trooper

My favorite event—because I’m kind of dorky—is our “May the fourth be with you” (aka “Star Wars”) day on May 4. The whole dining team dresses up, and we offer things like Chewbaklava, Boba Fettuccine and BB-8 Buckeyes. We had a guest cry because they got to take a picture with Chewy.

Menu Development
recipe revamp chicken soup

As a continuous care retirement community, The Garlands of Barrington in Illinois provides daily foodservice to 270 independent living and skilled nursing care residents, with the majority of sodium restrictions coming from the latter, says Executive Chef Nicola Torres. Instead of cooking two versions of chicken noodle soup—a favorite offered at least twice a week—he reworked his recipe into a flavorful lower-sodium version that appeals to all. “Everybody eats soup, so I created a homemade stock that uses no salt at all, ramping up the flavor with fresh herbs and plenty of vegetables,...

Ideas and Innovation
tray number

We created lucky tray days to help create an experience surrounding our brand. The trays are numbered; we pick a number and the winner receives a free lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of one of our coaches, who calls out the random lucky winner, and it drums up a lot of excitement.

Managing Your Business
line kings girl goat open kitchen

Open kitchen concepts satisfy guests’ curiosity and desire for transparency. But there are some caveats. Here’s how to create a positive experience for both staff and customers when the walls are down.

Train to serve

With the back-of-house up front, everybody gets hospitality training. “Our cooks understand the food and what they’re doing incredibly, but translating that to guests requires [soft] skills that need to be honed,” says Marie Petulla, co-owner of two restaurants in Southern California.

Dress for a mess

At Girl & The Goat in Chicago, chef-owner Stephanie...

FSD Resources