Former chef for Kennedys recalls a loving family

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It has been said that the Kennedy clan is as close to royalty as it gets in this country. They have wealth, power and a curse that seems to strike at least once a decade.

Neil Connolly shared in many of those times, good and bad, when he was family chef at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass.

Primarily, he cooked for the family's matriarch, Rose Kennedy, and son Sen. Edward Kennedy, from 1983 until Rose Kennedy's death in 1995.

Connolly has published a cookbook recalling those years, "In the Kennedy Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections of a Great American Family" (DK Publishing, $35). Now the chef and co-owner of Doc's in Orlando, he'll be the featured chef at Delicious Destinations, a fundraising event for the St. Vincent's HealthCare Foundation that continues through Saturday.

Connolly said working for the Kennedys was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the New Englander. Though the place where he worked is known as a compound, it was most assuredly a home.

"It was Grand Central Station. Everyone came in through the kitchen. It was information central," he said in an interview at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club. "People would come in and ask who was in for the weekend. It was a beehive. They liked to hang out in the kitchen. They are a real down-to-earth family." Connolly was working at the nearby Dunfey's Hyannis Hotel when Sen.

Kennedy hired him. The hotel experience came in handy because, many a time, a planned dinner for 12 would become dinner for 40 without much notice.

He writes: "There was always room for one more or 20 more, at the table. It was always my pleasure to feed them." The recipes include his rendition of Hyannis Port Crab Cakes and Oysters Kennedy (made with a special Light Cheese Sauce). While the local purveyors provided the best product for the Kennedys, the family's tastes were rather simple. Seafood was a staple. They even had their own lobster traps.

The senator spent much of his time on sailboats, no matter the season. Connolly often made "boat lunches," boxes filled with meatloaf sandwiches, lobster rolls or tuna salad sandwiches.

"He once told me that when he got out of politics, we ought to go into the charter business. You do the cooking. I'll do the sailing,'" Connolly said.

He also described Kennedy as a dutiful son who spent a lot of time with his mother; he'd talk and sing Irish songs to her. He'd bring her down to the kitchen, especially during the holidays.

"She was a frugal woman. She'd remind me to turn off a light in the pantry." The book features family photos and behind-the-scenes info on the weddings of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caroline Kennedy and Edwin Schlossberg.

Of the sad times, such as when Jaqueline Kennedy died in 1994, Connolly said the home was like any other. His job was to keep family and friends fed with food that would keep on several buffet stations.

Dan Macdonald can be reached at

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