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Pastries to please the palates of presidents

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For Mesnier, this meant biting his tongue now and then. For example, when President Clinton went off his diet and sneaked a piece of chocolate cake; when Mrs. Reagan made an 11th-hour menu change, demanding that Mesnier present the Queen of the Netherlands and her entourage with elaborate sugar baskets incorporating delicate sugar tulips, orange sorbet, and petits fours; or when, at Christmastime, first lady Laura Bush requested a sugar-sculpted Willy Wonka chocolate factory instead of a more traditional gingerbread house – and he'd never heard of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka. "Keeping my mouth shut is how I kept my job for 26 years," says Mesnier.

He is also unfailingly discreet about the families he served and what he observed of their lives. "I cannot tell you anything," he says with a twinkle. Even in his memoir, while he regales readers with behind-the-scenes stories about what it was like to work for the Carters, Reagans, Clintons, and Bushes, he doesn't dish any dirt.

When he is asked the question every guest at the French Library event wanted to know but was afraid to ask, Mesnier is restrained.

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