Patrick O’Connell, 69, is the chef and owner of the Inn at Little Washington, which he co-founded in 1978. He is also the author of the new book “The Inn at Little Washington: A Magnificent Obsession.”
Having dinner at the Inn is an extravagance. Are you an extravagant person?
No, no, no, no. I’ve never said that word. It’s a matter of priorities. People need to think differently, I believe, about what a dining experience in a great restaurant affords them. It is — even if it doesn’t succeed in living up to all of their expectations — it is life changing. Just as visiting a foreign country or hearing a great piece of music or experiencing an amazing piece of art: If you open yourself to it you will be changed.
Do you get a lot of odd requests from diners?
People these days come with their list of allergies — or imagined allergies. And you sometimes wish you could just call their doctor. [Laughs.] After doing some research on some of these you find that it is completely impossible to be allergic to certain things. My secret fantasy is to come up with what I’m calling the restorative menu. It will be lots of fresh air and spring water, beautifully served.
What do you think when a critic gives a less than effusive review?
Well, you find something about it [that] offers you fuel. They are few and far between, but you always consider the source, the motivation, the politics and the fairness. Sometimes you feel more distraught when a regular guest might not like something.
What would you get if you walked into a 7-Eleven?
On the road back home there are very few options, Wawa and 7-Eleven among them. So I would go in and make myself a hot chocolate, but I’d use half cappuccino, half hot chocolate. I’d add half-and-half, stir in a little nutmeg and cinnamon and have a decent drink. Then I’d go and get some Doritos and jalapeño dip. If you close your eyes, it would get you home.
That actually sounds pretty great. Are you a good customer when you’re dining out?
I’m a sweetheart. I have been given dog food and I’ve eaten it greedily. If someone is doing the best they can and their intentions are pure, food can be wonderful. And food is a gift. The key, if you’re in the business, is finding a way to turn your critical faculty off.
And you don’t tell them you have any allergies?
Never! Never, never, never.
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