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

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