Culinary whiz and inn owner Trisha Pérez Kennealy on how she's shared her Puerto Rican and Jewish background with her community.
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Matzo ball meat pies, anyone?

Trisha Pérez Kennealy, owner of the Inn at Hastings Park and culinary educator in Lexington, Massachusetts, is a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish woman who's on a mission to bring new culinary techniques to her home in the Boston suburb. She opened her boutique hotel in this American history mecca in 2014 to be a center for food and community and has since woven multicultural cuisine into the storied space, which dates back to 1888. Travel + Leisure caught up with the hotelier on how she's put so much of her multicultural upbringing into Boston's only Relais & Châteaux property.

Trisha Pérez Kennealy of Inn at Hastings Park and a plate of matzoh ball soup
Credit: Courtesy of Inn at Hastings Park

Pérez Kennealy's inn encompasses 22 handsome accommodations that seamlessly meld Lexington's momentous heritage and centuries-old architecture with a modern aesthetic. "The hotel celebrates being passionate about different aspects of your life," she says. "The farmers who stood their ground on the Lexington battle green to start the American Revolution were passionate about their freedom," she elaborates, referencing one of the first military fights of the American Revolutionary War, which took place in Lexington in 1775.

Exterior view of Inn at Hastings Park
Credit: Courtesy of Inn at Hastings Park
Interior of Barn Suite at Inn at Hastings Park
Credit: Courtesy of Inn at Hastings Park

Above all, her cultural roots are what ground her — and inform the ethos of her inn. "I loved growing up in Puerto Rico in an urbanization (that is what they call them!) known as El Remanso, which is in the Rio Piedras district in San Juan. My paternal grandparents, who are from Guayanilla, both loved to cook. I have very fond memories of spending time with our extended family in their backyard while my grandparents cooked hundreds of meat pies at a time, my grandmother picking fresh passion fruit from her trees to make juice, and the sounds of ivory dominoes being mixed on the table for folks to play," she recalls.

Though Pérez Kennealy moved to Lexington as a teenager, to this day, she uses that very meat pie recipe she learned in Puerto Rico at the inn. And because there were always extra seats for whomever came through the door during her childhood, she cultivates that same energy at the Inn at Hastings Park. (When she's not welcoming people in real life, she's fielding "kitchen questions people are too afraid to ask" on her personal Instagram account to help inspire a more inclusive culinary community online.)

Reminiscent of the welcoming spirit in Puerto Rico, one of Pérez Kennealy's favorite stories involves a guest who came to the inn for the first time when her daughter-in-law was having twins. "It happened to be during the Jewish high holidays. They were going to the hospital and I realized that they didn't have a holiday meal. I personally made matzo ball soup for them to take to the new mom and dad," she says, noting that the then-new mom is now one of her closest friends, and the twins (now age 7) regularly pop into the inn.

Outside her work at the inn, Pérez Kennealy is the chairman of the board of advisors for the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University in Medford, MA. She became involved at the school because of their New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, which is dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and working with them to build thriving, lasting businesses. "I am particularly proud of the work that we do with immigrant farmers to bring some of their indigenous fruits and vegetables to the agricultural scene in Massachusetts," she says, noting that the program also helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to people in disadvantaged areas.

While the pandemic has presented challenges for those in travel and hospitality, this passionate culinary educator used the hardships it created as fuel to double down on her efforts to promote the local ecosystem. One such effort which she has spearheaded are the private and personally meaningful Immersive Cooking Weekends, which she hosts at the inn for her guests. Some highlights include an agrarian historical tour going to two different types of nearby farms, making chowder with local produce, and a high tea on Saturday afternoon, a hat tip to Pérez Kennealy's culinary education in London. These days, most guests of the hotel are from Massachusetts, while there's also a strong showing of visitors hailing from Connecticut and Rhode Island.

"I spend close to 20 hours with participants in these programs. I love when participants email me with follow-up questions or share the results of their work," she says of the meaningful small group experiences. "I remember bumping into some of my participants in the local farmstand right after they left, as they were eager to try some of the things that they had learned."

Trisha Pérez Kennealy works in the kitchen at Inn at Hastings Park
Credit: Tom Curry

Recently, Pérez Kennealy has had fun adding touches from her culture for holiday and special events at the property, including mofongo along with that infamous matzo ball soup. "Mofongo is a very traditional Puerto Rican dish made with fried plantains, pork crackling, and garlic. It is sometimes served with caldo, or chicken broth," she says. "We did a Puerto Rican-inspired menu for a fundraiser for my temple, and the mofongo matzo ball soup was featured." For Hanukkah, the inn offers sufganiyot (a traditional, Israeli jelly-filled donut) and stuffs them with guava jelly or passion fruit as an homage to Puerto Rico. The hotel has also featured her family's empanadillas (meat pies) and pastelillos de manchego (cheese pastries) on their menus.

In addition to honoring the property's origins and her own upbringing, Pérez Kennealy's commitment to helping others has also remained during this tumultuous chapter in history. In lieu of in-person fundraisers, the innkeeper has worked with her synagogue and other organizations to arrange fundraisers in which people buy takeout dinners from the inn that benefit local charities. Most recently, a percentage of profits from their to-go meals have benefitted MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (a national organization fighting to end hunger among people of all faiths) and New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. She has also done a series of online cooking classes to help anchor events for various organizations such as Cary Memorial Library (the main branch of the public library in Lexington) and Tufts University.

She attributes the success of these ventures to one thing: curiosity. "The thing that sets industry leaders in hospitality apart is that they are innately curious — curious about all aspects of operations, curious about people, and curious about the world," says Pérez Kennealy. "I think the most effective hospitality leaders are people [who] have had multicultural experiences, whether working with a diverse workforce or traveling around the world."