Stefan Hard / Staff File Photo
Jimmy Kennedy, of Plainfield, holds up a morning’s catch during a bass tournament on Lake Champlain.
Jimmy Kennedy’s a busy man.
A professional bass fisherman from Plainfield, he competes in seven or eight tournaments a year in the Bassmaster Southern Opens series and the F.L.W. Everstart series, traveling to lakes and rivers in places like Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Maryland and, closer to home, Lake Champlain in the Champlain Bass series. He co-hosts the “Lakes Region Fishing” show on television, is a certified instructor for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s Let’s Go Fishing program and mentors at Twinfield school taking kids ice fishing and helping the Farnham family with the annual Kids’ Fishing Derby in Plainfield.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking kids fishing. You get a lot of reward for it, because they have such a great time,” he says.
But Kennedy is also a chef. River Run in Plainfield was his restaurant for almost 19 years, and now he develops recipes and is a spokesman for Cabot Creamery, putting on cooking demonstrations and appearing on cooking shows to introduce the company’s products across the country. In addition, he runs J.D.K. B.B.Q. catering during the spring, summer and fall.
Several years ago Kennedy approached Cabot as a potential sponsor for his professional fishing career, and the result is a blue camouflage, Cabot-plaid-clad 802 Toyota truck towing a matching Skeeter boat. Hard to miss when he’s driving to tournaments and handing out three-quarter-ounce samples to toll booth operators and gas station employees.
“People love it. It’s fun. Cabot’s an easy sell,” he says. “The truck and the boat get a lot of attention.”
Kennedy started fishing when he was growing up in Mississippi and continued competitively through his time at the University of Mississippi. After graduating, he worked for Mississippi Rep. Webb Franklin, which took him to Washington, D.C., and on a fishing hiatus, which amazes him on reflection, now that he’s competed in tournaments on the Potomac.
“I should have been fishing there the whole time. A lot of people fish right next to the Jefferson Memorial all the way up to the Kennedy Center. People don’t think of the Potomac as good fishing, but it really is,” he says.
From D.C. he moved to New York City, getting more involved in the restaurant world and running a small Mississippi catfish distribution business. Eventually, he moved to Vermont and in 1991 opened River Run. He joined a fishing club in St. Albans and got back into fishing competitively, working his way up through the amateur tours and winning a championship, which earned him his first boat and motor sponsors, Skeeter and Yamaha, and then his gear sponsor, Shimano.
Focusing more on his fishing career was possible after selling River Run, and he was able to continue his passion for cooking when he teamed up with Cabot.
“I don’t miss cooking, because I still do it so much. I miss the people. We had a great group of regulars. You don’t realize how difficult running a restaurant is until you get out. The time commitment is astronomical,” says Kennedy.
Now, the biggest challenge is balancing time at home with the traveling he does for tournaments and cooking for Cabot. A tournament will usually take him away for a week or so — most tournaments involve two or three days of competition and three days of official practice — but if he combines it with a demonstration it can be longer. Most recently, he spent two weeks in Florida doing exactly that at the South Florida Fair.
Kennedy usually selects about three recipes to demonstrate; all of his recipes and more can be found at www.cabotcheese.coop.
“My favorite, or the one that has gotten the most exposure and is the easiest, is Cheddar S’mores, which is a three-quarter-ounce sample bar on chocolate on a graham cracker, briefly melted in the oven,” he says.
Cheese and chocolate?
“It’s so good! I was at home trying to think of how I could use the cheese in an unusual but easy way. I had been toying with marshmallows as soup garnish and wasn’t getting anywhere, then it just made me think of s’mores. I ran out right then to get the graham crackers. It was so much better than I thought it was going to be.”
On the Cabot Community Tour, which took him from Miami to Portland, Maine, last year, Kennedy says they probably made about 20,000 of them.
Seriously Sharp is Kennedy’s favorite cheese to cook with, but Cabot offers a range of products that can be used in recipes, including yogurt.
“I’ve never been a big yogurt fan, but that stuff’s like eating ice cream. I have used it as a substitute for all sorts of things like mayo, eggs and buttermilk,” he says. “Every year I learn more and more about the company and just love what I’m doing there.”
Indeed, Kennedy hopes to be doing exactly what he’s doing now for as long as possible. In the short term, he is looking forward to the Champlain Bass series, saying that northern Lake Champlain is his favorite place to fish.
“There’s going to be some pretty stiff competition,” he says. “But you play to your strengths. Usually you have a few things that you’re good at, that you’re comfortable with. But some places you just have to adapt and go with the flow.”
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