Pastry Chef Laura Donnelly Savors the Hamptons Sweet Life



Hamptons style setter Gerald Murphy's 1927 "Cocktail" is now part of the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.I grew up going to East Hampton every summer. My whole family loved food and company. My grandparents, Gerald and Sara Murphy, did a ton of entertaining. There was always a cocktail hour, and the kids would get the virgin version of whatever the specialty drink was and stand with the adults. I remember the playwright Philip Barry asking what the adults’ signature cocktail was, and my grandfather replied, “It’s the juice of a few flowers,” which Barry later used in The Philadelphia Story. Some afternoons, my grandfather would even drive us kids in his black 1960s Pontiac to Shelter Island to have a picnic. We’d bring a packed lunch and find an abandoned house to set it up in. It was really spooky, but great fun.

I moved out East permanently 22 years ago, and one of the first jobs I had was as a pastry chef at the Laundry restaurant. I could work in the morning and be done by two in the afternoon, which was perfect for a mother with a young child. At the Laundry, I came up with my signature dessert, sticky-toffee date cake, and would often make homemade ice cream to serve with it.

The sticky-toffee date cake is a favorite of Alec Baldwin’s—he loves his carbs and desserts. At one point, I was his personal chef and had to help him lose 20 pounds for his role in Pearl Harbor. He was so much fun to be around. Half the time, when I delivered meals to his house, he’d eat them right at the door. He was married to Kim Basinger then, and I must say, even close up at 10 in the morning, she is very stunning.

Over the years, I’ve taught cooking classes at Loaves & Fishes Cookshop, but I really wish I could teach young couples the basics for entertaining. People often feel so much pressure to come up with a really unique dish, but if you can master a roast chicken and a vinaigrette, you don’t have to experiment. Serve a local wine, grab some seasonal vegetables, and create a signature cocktail. Don’t freak out. The same goes for people who do what I call “frantically relaxing,” running from spin class to yoga to charity benefits to dinner at Nick and Toni’s.

Although I have always loved East Hampton, I realized that it didn’t make sense for a pastry chef to live among all the hedge-fund managers who were moving into town, so my brothers and I sold off my grandparents’ land next to the Maidstone Club. I live in Sag Harbor now, but sometimes I go to my shack at Lazy Point. There’s no Internet, and nothing to do but go clamming and swimming and lie out—the stuff you’re supposed to do.

A version of this article appeared in the August 1, 2016 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: My Hamptons: Laura Donnelly.

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