The Gourmet Gossip – O.L. McKenney

Tramway General manager O.L. McKenney collects recipes from around the world.

Barbara Lawrence PSL and Villager, Real Estate

O.L. McKenney checks his chicken parmesan, a mainstay in his cooking repertoire.

Reprinted from the May 1977 issue of Palm Springs Life Magazine.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has been a top desert attraction since it was opened to the public in September 1963.

O.L. "Mac" McKenney, a man well known to area residents, is general manager of this magnificent feat of engineering. For the past 12 years he has guided the activities at the recreational facility. He also has been a race track manager and a restaurateur.

McKenney and his attractive, blonde wife Shirley talked about their experiences in the cozy living room of their newly decorated penthouse condominium in Palm Springs. Did he ever think he might one day direct the largest double-reversible passenger-carrying tramway in the world?

"Not at all," McKenney said. "Actually I had aspirations of becoming a pharmacist. I was born in Virginia, but spent my school years in Nebraska. After four years at the University of Nebraska, I guess my peripatetic nature was stronger than my urge for a medical career. So I headed for Southern California.

"Soon after I arrived, I took a job at the race track in Del Mar, thinking it would do until I found something steady. When I left 12 years later, I was general manager of the seaside track.

"I resigned my position at Del Mar because I decided it was time to do something I had always wanted to do — open a restaurant!"

McKenney said he found what he thought to be an ideal location for a restaurant, one overlooking the Pacific Ocean. "I named it ‘The Firepit’ because of a huge, four-sided fireplace we kept burning year ’round. I didn’t cook, but I would make up dishes for the chef to try. If we liked it, it was added to the menu. The breast of chicken recipe I will give you is one I created which became a customer favorite.

"It was really a lovely restaurant — soft music, soft lights and a fantastic view. Most importantly though, the food was good!"

Not in favor of the so-called convenience foods, McKenney admitted he likes to "start from scratch."

"Cooking always has been my hobby," he said. "I’ve traveled all over the world collecting recipes and tasting the cuisine of every country I visited."

Mrs. McKenney mentioned a luau they had attended last year in Hawaii which they had found particularly delectable. "Yes," McKenney agreed, "it was excellent. It had been prepared by a group of church women. It was completely non-commercial and was probably as close to a true, native meal as you could find anywhere."

Health played a large part in McKenney’s decision to move to Palm Springs, he explained. "By the time I had been in the restaurant business 15 years, I realized the ocean air was beginning to bother me. Each time I took a holiday in the dry, desert climate, I noticed the difference. When an opportunity presented itself to manage the tram, I couldn’t refuse and, of course, here I am, 12 years later, almost to the day."

"Mac" McKenney shares the following recipes from his personal collection. It is an excellent menu for "company," which can be quickly managed with a gourmet flair!


Broiled Oysters or Braised Endive
Chicken Parmesan a la McKenney
Buttered Asparagus
Festive Fruit Salad
Mixed Dinner Rolls
Chilled Chablis
Shirley’s Cake with Carrots
Coffee or Tea

Chicken Parmesan a la McKenney

Skin chicken breasts, allowing 2 per serving (if there are leftovers, that’s even better!). Sprinkle both sides with Worcestershire sauce and garlic salt, to taste. Melt butter or margarine and dip each chicken piece first into the melted butter and then into a mixture of Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, finely chopped fresh parsley and enough paprika for color. Arrange chicken breasts, bone-side down, on a cookie sheet and bake in a 325° oven, 25 to 35 minutes or until nicely browned.

Festive Fruit Salad

Dressing: Combine cream cheese with enough mayonnaise to thin. Add maraschino cherry juice for color and chopped walnuts or pecans. Chill until ready to serve. To serve: on individual salad plates arrange in layers, a lettuce leaf, a slice of canned pineapple, a large spoonful of dressing, a canned pear or peach half, a spoonful of dressing and top with a maraschino cherry. Additional dressing or mayonnaise may be offered in a sauce dish.

Braised Endive

To braise 8 heads of endive, enough for 4 people, carefully trim the heads of all discolored leaves and slice away as much of the root as you can without cutting loose the leaves. If you like the rather bitter taste of cooked endives, do not blanch them. However, if you prefer a milder flavor, blanch the endives by immersing them in a 2-quart enamel pot of boiling water seasoned with 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Simmer the stalks over moderate heat for about 10 minutes. Then, remove them from the water with kitchen tongs and lay them side by side in a heavily buttered enamel or Pyrex baking dish.

Sprinkle lightly with seasoned salt and add about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, fresh or canned, and 1 tablespoon of white vermouth. The stalks should be half immersed in the stock; add more liquid if they are not. Heat the dish on top of the stove until the stock is boiling, then cover the endives closely with buttered waxed paper (buttered side down) and place in a 350° oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should be tender and lightly browned when they are done. These may be served as is, by removing them carefully to a hot serving dish and topping them with a bit of the remaining liquid, chopped fresh parsley and several strips of canned pimiento or with the following Mornay sauce:

In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Remove pan from heat and add 3 tablespoons flour, a dash of cayenne pepper and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Measure the drained liquid from the cooked endive and add enough whipping cream to make 1-1/2 cups. Add the cream-stock mixture gradually to the butter-flour, blending carefully with a wooden spoon until smooth. Return sauce to heat and stir constantly until it begins to boil. Lower heat, then add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and continue stirring until cheese has melted. Add a pinch of dry mustard, stir and then taste; you may want additional salt. Arrange endive in an attractive, shallow baking dish. Spoon Mornay sauce over stalks and sprinkle with 1 or 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter and place in a 425° oven until sauce is bubbling, about 15 minutes.

Broiled Oysters on the Half Shell

Prepare raw oysters (in shells) — scrub, split, and arrange on cookie sheet filled with rock salt (the type used for making ice cream — it’s available in most supermarkets). Allow at least 2 oysters per serving. Oysters should be firmly pushed into salt to keep them steady and in place, but do not allow the salt to spill into the oyster shell.

Sprinkle each open oyster with a dash of Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt and garlic powder. Top each oyster with a tea-spoonful of crisply fried and crumbled bacon and shredded Swiss cheese. To serve: broil until oyster edges curl slightly and cheese melts. This does not take very long; be sure to watch carefully. Sprinkle with minced, fresh parsley if desired, place on individual plates (use kitchen tongs) and serve at once.

Buttered Asparagus

2 lbs. fresh asparagus
4 tbs. butter or margarine
1/4 tsp.salt
1 tsp. lemon juice

Break off white parts of asparagus stalks at the point where stalks snap easily. With a vegetable parer strip off peel from lower portion of stalk. Wash well to remove any hidden sand or grit. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Combine butter, salt and lemon juice in small saucepan and set aside. When ready to serve, fill a 10-inch skillet half full of lightly salted water and bring it to a boil.

Place stalks flat in boiling water and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until barely fork-tender. Turn off heat and add 1 cup cold water to water in the skillet. This will prevent further cooking, yet keep asparagus warm. Just before serving, heat butter mixture until warm. Arrange asparagus on a warm serving dish and pour butter sauce over all. You may substitute frozen asparagus, if desired. Then, simply follow directions on package and top with above butter sauce. For microwave asparagus, prepare fresh asparagus in same manner (wash and peel), then place in buttered glass dish which has a tight-fitting cover. Sprinkle lightly with seasoned salt, and cover. Place in microwave oven and cook for 6 minutes. (If low watt oven is used, additional time may be necessary.) Serve with above butter sauce. Usually whatever water clings to the stalks is enough for cooking. However, if the asparagus is not absolutely fresh, you may want to add 1 tablespoon water.

Shirley’s Cake with Carrots

2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups salad oil
4 eggs (well beaten)
2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp.salt
1 cup chopped pecans
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup golden raisins or currants
1 can (8-3/4 oz.) crushed pineapple (drained)

Mix together sugar and salad oil. Add well-beaten eggs and mix. Combine dry ingredients and stir into egg mixture. Mix until smooth. Stir in chopped pecans, grated carrots, raisins (or currants) and crushed pineapple. Pour into greased 8-1/2 x 13 x 2-inch oven dish or large loaf pan. Bake in a 325° oven about 40 or 50 minutes or until tests done. Cool, then spread with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 box powdered sugar
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup butter or margarine (1/2 stick)
1 tsp. lemon extract
Combine ingredients and mix until smooth. Spread on top and sides of cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.