Patrick O'Connell

Chef/Restaurateur

Washington

Patrick O'Connell is chef and proprietor of Five-Star The Inn at Little Washington, a Virginia restaurant and inn that opened in 1978 in a former garage and that has evolved from a simple country inn to an international culinary shrine. A self-taught chef who pioneered a refined, regional cuisine, his alliance with local farmers and artisanal producers was born of necessity more than 30 years ago when nothing but milk was delivered to “Little” Washington, Va. (population 158). O'Connell and The Inn have won five awards from the James Beard Foundation, including Restaurant of the Year in 1993 and the prestigious Outstanding American Chef Award for 2001. O'Connell is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree in the Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University, and the author of two best-selling cookbooks.

  • On December 4, 2014
    Jarrod Long is now following Patrick O'Connell
  • On August 19, 2014
    Casey Higgins is now following Patrick O'Connell
  • On July 2, 2014
  • On March 15, 2013
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    What is Patrick O'Connell's favorite part of a menu?

    I think dessert is an underrated part in most — even fancy, grand — restaurants. I think people don’t understand that it’s the finale, it’s the last act, it is what sends them on the road and if it goes flat there it’s a great missed opportunity. It has to be sublime, but there has to be a little surprise element that is unforgettable about it and that’s a real challenge. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    What is Patrick O'Connell's favorite part of a menu?

    I think dessert is an underrated part in most — even fancy, grand — restaurants. I think people don’t understand that it’s the finale, it’s the last act, it is what sends them on the road and if it goes flat there it’s a great missed opportunity. It has to be sublime, but there has to be a little surprise element that is unforgettable about it and that’s a real challenge. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    What is Patrick O'Connell's favorite dish?

    I think I should honestly say that one in our profession can and often does — secretly — develop a love-hate relationship with food. Food turns into work and you sometimes have the fantasy of not eating for an extended period of time until you get hungry again. You know what is the biggest turn on is for someone else to figure it out. It’s a chore for me to figure out what I want to eat right now, but if someone else does, that’s euphoric. My feeling is it doesn’t matter what time of day, how much you’ve eaten, where you are, there’s always one thing that’s always precisely perfect for that moment, someone just needs to intuit it. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    What is Patrick O'Connell's favorite dish?

    I think I should honestly say that one in our profession can and often does — secretly — develop a love-hate relationship with food. Food turns into work and you sometimes have the fantasy of not eating for an extended period of time until you get hungry again. You know what is the biggest turn on is for someone else to figure it out. It’s a chore for me to figure out what I want to eat right now, but if someone else does, that’s euphoric. My feeling is it doesn’t matter what time of day, how much you’ve eaten, where you are, there’s always one thing that’s always precisely perfect for that moment, someone just needs to intuit it. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    How does Patrick O'Connell define great service?

    Service — like all other aspects of this business — is something where you never really arrive. You could be doing it for 20 years and you’re still working toward perfecting it because it’s about people and it’s about reading people. For me, it’s one of the most fascinating aspects of what we do, and I love training people to read people. If you’ve been a waiter for a year you should be able to write a brief biography of the person you’re waiting on. You should know their total net worth, their IQ, where they go for holidays; you should know predictably what their favorite types of food would be, their reference points, and what wine they might like. And the waiter will say, “How?” And you just observe, feel them and listen; but you’re balancing it with the numbers and numbers of people you have read throughout the years. For me, it's channeling, going into the head of a guest and figuring out what their fantasy is so you can deliver on it and exceed it. I sometimes liken it to prostitution — before prostitution had any negative baggage associated with it — when it was still as with the geisha, an art form; when people were gifted in that regard. No one wants to say to you, “This is my fantasy; I’d really like to begin with this and then this.” They want you to intuit it. It’s a bit of a gift, to be able to allow yourself — like a sponge — to intuit what might make a person incredibly happy or what might be a surprise to them. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    How does Patrick O'Connell define great service?

    Service — like all other aspects of this business — is something where you never really arrive. You could be doing it for 20 years and you’re still working toward perfecting it because it’s about people and it’s about reading people. For me, it’s one of the most fascinating aspects of what we do, and I love training people to read people. If you’ve been a waiter for a year you should be able to write a brief biography of the person you’re waiting on. You should know their total net worth, their IQ, where they go for holidays; you should know predictably what their favorite types of food would be, their reference points, and what wine they might like. And the waiter will say, “How?” And you just observe, feel them and listen; but you’re balancing it with the numbers and numbers of people you have read throughout the years. For me, it's channeling, going into the head of a guest and figuring out what their fantasy is so you can deliver on it and exceed it. I sometimes liken it to prostitution — before prostitution had any negative baggage associated with it — when it was still as with the geisha, an art form; when people were gifted in that regard. No one wants to say to you, “This is my fantasy; I’d really like to begin with this and then this.” They want you to intuit it. It’s a bit of a gift, to be able to allow yourself — like a sponge — to intuit what might make a person incredibly happy or what might be a surprise to them. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    How does Patrick O'Connell create his menus at The Inn at Little Washington?

    First, you create a dish that’s your building block and then you work from there. There has to be cohesion, it has to have one voice, no different than a story or a book. These days that’s the failing of so many restaurant menus — it’s a kind of cacophony. It’s one of these, one of these, and you don’t know whose house you’re in. It’s a point of view. It’s identical to writing a novel or a story. Each dish is a narrative and each dish is telling you something, but each dish is relating to all of the other dishes. In most cases you have to be aware that someone is going to “willy-nilly” and take one of these, one of these, one of these and put them together. It has to work in that respect. At home, I always start with one dish that you really want to feature and then allow the menu to work its way around that. It doesn’t have to be the main course, it could be a dessert that is just killer. Usually it has a personality or ethnicity that will allow you to stay in harmony with it and with the rest of the dishes. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    How does Patrick O'Connell create his menus at The Inn at Little Washington?

    First, you create a dish that’s your building block and then you work from there. There has to be cohesion, it has to have one voice, no different than a story or a book. These days that’s the failing of so many restaurant menus — it’s a kind of cacophony. It’s one of these, one of these, and you don’t know whose house you’re in. It’s a point of view. It’s identical to writing a novel or a story. Each dish is a narrative and each dish is telling you something, but each dish is relating to all of the other dishes. In most cases you have to be aware that someone is going to “willy-nilly” and take one of these, one of these, one of these and put them together. It has to work in that respect. At home, I always start with one dish that you really want to feature and then allow the menu to work its way around that. It doesn’t have to be the main course, it could be a dessert that is just killer. Usually it has a personality or ethnicity that will allow you to stay in harmony with it and with the rest of the dishes. 
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    What is Patrick O'Connell's food philosophy?

    I like the term deceptive simplicity. Deceptive simplicity has a lot to do with consciousness. We’re going through a period in cuisine now which is quite the opposite of deceptive simplicity. It’s like, how many trendy things can you possibly get on the plate at one time? And the more esoteric, the better. On a typical day a young boy in my kitchen will say, “Chef, chef, chef.” I encourage them to try new dishes all the time. And he’ll put something in front of me and I will say, “Wow it’s dazzling, it has so many ingredients.” [But you’ll have a] taste of [it], and it’s not too good. Sometimes I am taken to sitting them down and putting a blindfold on them and saying, “Just please forget about what it looks like and I am going to put a little of this in your mouth and ask you, would you like a little more, and you’ll probably say no.” It’s all of these various components but none of them can hold their own. I usually say, “Let’s take everything off the plate and just begin with the fish — if it’s a fish or the piece of veal — and get that right first.” Then they realize that’s no easy task in and of itself.

    I also use musical analogies. Who is the lead singer? Who is the dish pretending to be? Think of it in different terms, rather than, wow isn’t this a lot of fireworks. When we back down to one ingredient, cooking the fish correctly, they suddenly realize that this could take a month or two or longer and all you have still is a crisp fish, but when that’s great you can work from there.
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    What is Patrick O'Connell's food philosophy?

    I like the term deceptive simplicity. Deceptive simplicity has a lot to do with consciousness. We’re going through a period in cuisine now which is quite the opposite of deceptive simplicity. It’s like, how many trendy things can you possibly get on the plate at one time? And the more esoteric, the better. On a typical day a young boy in my kitchen will say, “Chef, chef, chef.” I encourage them to try new dishes all the time. And he’ll put something in front of me and I will say, “Wow it’s dazzling, it has so many ingredients.” [But you’ll have a] taste of [it], and it’s not too good. Sometimes I am taken to sitting them down and putting a blindfold on them and saying, “Just please forget about what it looks like and I am going to put a little of this in your mouth and ask you, would you like a little more, and you’ll probably say no.” It’s all of these various components but none of them can hold their own. I usually say, “Let’s take everything off the plate and just begin with the fish — if it’s a fish or the piece of veal — and get that right first.” Then they realize that’s no easy task in and of itself.

    I also use musical analogies. Who is the lead singer? Who is the dish pretending to be? Think of it in different terms, rather than, wow isn’t this a lot of fireworks. When we back down to one ingredient, cooking the fish correctly, they suddenly realize that this could take a month or two or longer and all you have still is a crisp fish, but when that’s great you can work from there.
  • On August 23, 2012
    Patrick O'Connell answered the question: Patrick O'Connell

    How has Patrick O'Connell's cooking style changed over the years?

    It’s changed because people used to ask that question and my eyes would cross. I knew they were looking for one word: Japanese, French maybe Northern Italian. They wanted a handle so that they could then pre-attach all of their preconceived negative baggage to it. I felt as if it was asking to have your personality described in three words or less.

    Initially 30 years ago, people in our culture tended to think that French cuisine was the only benchmark, or if it wasn’t French, you couldn’t charge very much money for it. So naturally it was very heavily French influenced at the outset. In fact, there were quite a few French words on the menu. Then, I realized what I wanted more than anything else was to give people a sense of place to share this wonderful part of the world, which for me was not only home, but was my lifesaver.

    At that point, I began to feature more and more of the region. Then, we began growing more and more. Pretty soon it was a Regional American Cuisine. What I had been doing was refining and evolving some of these early taste memories that I grew up with, which are part of my heritage and that I should be as proud of as somebody who grew up in Lyon. Now I’m able to reduce the description of my cuisine into three words and it is: Refined American Cuisine.