"I hate plated service," grumbled Mesnier, who spent 26 years at the White House - and has been gleefully sharing kitchen secrets since his tenure ended. At a panel convened by the Association of Food Journalists, he strongly intimated that former White House executive chef Walter Scheib dispensed with the traditional service method because he didn't know how to properly assemble a serving platter.
"We would have to send them back halfway," Mesnier said, explaining the servings were measly and messily arranged. "Why is it we don't have platters? Because one man could not make them, he was not quick."
Although Mesnier didn't use Scheib's name, a conference organizer said Mesnier agreed to serve on the panel only if Scheib didn't participate.
The 1994 switch from a la russe service - the grand style which had been favored by the White House for more than a century - to the plated service familiar from restaurants and standard hotel banquets was officially attributed to guests' inability to serve themselves in tidy fashion.
As the Baltimore Sun reported in 2005:
At Scheib's first state dinner, for instance, waiters followed the traditional practice of presenting a platter to guests at the table so that they could help themselves. When the platters returned to the kitchen, however, the chef saw they still contained more food than they should.
Were the guests, seated at tables of 10, baffled by the serving method? Were they unsure of how much to take?
"We found that some guests were intimidated by the idea of skooching the food off the platter onto their plates," Scheib says. "The last thing you want to do is drop a lamb chop on the bodice of your new gown. So Mrs. Clinton decided to go to a contemporary plated style where everyone would have the same experience.
"It's better to leave plating to culinarians," Scheib told the Chicago Sun-Times when the change was announced.
"I would never do it," Mesnier said of plated service. "When it came to the White House, I resented it."