A Taste of the Governor's Residence

From the private kitchen of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, executive Chef Kathy Henning whips up meals fit for royalty.

Kathy Henning is the chef at the Governor’s Residence.

Aland J. Bartels and Tannon Osten

(page 1 of 2)

(This story originally appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)

WHEN NEBRASKA LIFE staffers were buzzed in the front gate of the Nebraska Governor’s Residence, our photographers were hungry to see the stately home. The aroma coming from the kitchen was almost heavenly, and the coming and going of staff reminded us of a busy restaurant. We were told that the kitchen is never part of the official tour. Good thing for us that first lady Sally Ganem sometimes skirts the rules. With the first puppy, Snickers, guarding the foyer, the first lady took us by the elbow and showed us around.

The building’s 31 rooms are part home, part museum, and the formal drawing room is no exception. Pheasant lamps, sandhill crane and equine statuary, and furniture from the first Nebraska Governor’s Residence appoint the large room. A doggie gate keeps Snickers off the antique empire sofa, but he made a successful run for it when the first lady let us in.

From there we see the formal dining room, complete with a silver service from the 1907 USS Nebraska battleship. It isn’t complete: Gov. Ben Nelson presented one of the silver cups to the USS Nebraska submarine when it was commissioned in 1993. Hand-cut chandeliers light the room, and a Zuber mural identical to one installed in the White House during President John F. Kennedy’s time in office occupies the walls.

A spiral staircase leads to the first family’s private quarters. In contrast to the main kitchen, which the first lady says is the busiest room in the house, the super-efficiency kitchen upstairs sees little use.

Ganem’s father, Jimmie Ganem, was a professional chef in Omaha hotels and worked with renowned Omaha chef Joe Incontro. Ganem’s skill didn’t rub off on his daughter. “I never did cook,” Ganem said. “I didn’t cook when we lived in Fremont. Why would I cook here?”

Luckily for Ganem and her husband, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, chef Kathy Henning came with the elected position.  The former Fairbury resident took over the governor’s kitchen during U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns’ first term as governor. The kitchen is always busy with chef and staff preparing meals for state functions and other events.

For holiday meals, Henning prepares everything ahead of time and stocks up on things the first family might need. Then she goes home to her own family and cooks there.

“The first family does their own holiday thing,” Henning said. “Along with all other Nebraskans.”


Cinnamon Rolls


5 ¼  cup unsifted flour

1/2  cup sugar 1 tsp salt

1  Tbsp dry active yeast

1  cup milk

1/2  cup water

2  sticks margarine

2  eggs

1  tsp grated lemon peel

1  tsp cinnamon

1/4  cup granulated sugar

1/4  cup brown sugar



4  oz cream cheese, softened

1/4  cup butter, softened

1 ½  cup powdered sugar

1/2  tsp vanilla

1 ½  tsp milk


Serves 12

To make rolls: Use a standard mixer and dough hook. Start with 2 cups flour and add next eight ingredients. Let batter mix for 2 minutes before adding remaining 3 ¼ cups flour. Mix with dough hook until a soft dough forms (dough will pull away from side of bowl, but is still sticky). Grease a large bowl with shortening.

Place dough ball in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). Punch down and let rise until half-doubled. Roll out into rectangle and spread 1/2-3/4 cup soft margarine on it. Mix cinnamon, brown sugar and 1/4 cup granulated sugar and sprinkle on top. Roll up tightly and cut with string to make 12 rolls. Bake in oven at 375° for 25-30 minutes.

To make icing: In a mixing bowl, beat icing ingredients until well mixed. Frost warm rolls.


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