- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Tantalizing whiffs of delicious sweets wafted through closed ballroom doors into the ornate foyer of the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City on Wednesday night as a throng of guests impatiently nibbled hors d’oeuvres.

What they really wanted was dessert. Not just cheesecake and fruit cups, but grand creations from Washington’s best pastry chefs: sinfully excessive but delicious chocolate-mousse-stuffed strawberries, palm-size pumpkins plump with creme caramel and slices of strawberry vodka lime cake would do — for starters.

Citronelle, Vidalia, Marcel’s and Le Paradou were among 18 top area restaurants participating in the first Life Is Sweet Pastry Chef Showcase benefit for Best Buddies Virginia, a local affiliate of the national Best Buddies organization.

The charity fosters friendships with people with intellectual disabilities. Each competing pastry chef was teamed with a Best Buddy student to select a recipe and then prepare it together.

Half-round tables covered with black and gold tablecloths served as stations for the chefs and their assistants plus the Buddy Chef, all comme il faut in starched white linen chef’s jackets.

“We’re all doing this for the right reason,” Bistro Bis chef Heather Martindale observed. “This makes a difference.”

“This charity feels good in your heart,” added Marcel’s Paul Stearman, whose long face edged by spiky hair and sideburns gave him the quintessential food artist look.

Moving from station to station, clipboards in one hand, forks in the other, was the panel of four judges.

Judge Michael Weiss, a 29-year-old Olympic figure-skating champion, recently joined the board of Best Buddies Virginia at the suggestion of his friend Stephen D. Mutty, the group’s advisory chairman. “I did work with the Special Olympics,” he said, “so this was a perfect transition.”

Competition among the chefs was more whimsical than serious. Pumpkin orange and passion-fruit green tea macaroons from Jerome Girardot of the District’s Ritz-Carlton won in the “finest appearance” category; DC Coast’s David Guas’ Louisiana cane syrup spice cake with Virginia apple butter and orange cream won for the most unusual use of ingredients. Steve Klc of Oyamel/Jaleo’s chocolate and orange parfait with hints of ginger, cardamom and sesame “best embodied the evening’s spirit”; and Miss Martindale’s strawberry cream cake with macaroons was judged the best overall dessert.

Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, wearing a royal blue shirt and salmon pink tie beneath a chef’s jacket bearing the White House seal, announced the winners while reminiscing about his long career. When asked the inevitable “Who was your favorite president?” question, he replied with a diplomatic twinkle. “Truly I loved every one of them. And I’m not just playing politics.”

Later he revealed that it was “because of Nancy Reagan that I am a better pastry chef. She was a very tough lady to work for, but because of her I made it 25 years at the White House.”

“Remember life is sweet,” he declared with a sweep of his arm as patrons hastened to taste every last offering before evening’s end.

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