In September, Inn at Little Washington chef Patrick O’Connell achieved a lifelong goal, one of the highest culinary achievements: a third Michelin star. Turns out, there were more accolades to come. On Thursday, the James Beard Foundation announced that O’Connell would receive its lifetime achievement award at the annual James Beard Awards gala on May 6.
O’Connell, 73, founded his restaurant in a former garage 41 years ago in Washington, Va. It has since grown to become a world-class dining destination, modeled after the grand inns found in remote villages throughout Europe. In that time, O’Connell has won five James Beard Awards, and has served the queens of England, Jordan and Spain and the king of Spain. The restaurant has topped the list of best restaurants in Tom Sietsema’s Fall Dining Guide, and it debuted in the Washington Michelin guide with two stars before earning its third in 2018.
“The trompe-l’oeil peach — spun from peach compote, peach mousse, a chocolate stem and a fondant leaf — is worth the trip,” wrote Sietsema in his most recent dining guide, in which he named the inn to his inaugural D.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame. “But the dessert, whose fruit changes with the season, is one of many pieces of evidence. I’d throw in the hors d’oeuvre that imagines a BLT as a parfait, the brilliant curry arranged with diver scallops finished with a spritz of calvados at the table, the eggplant Milanese bedded on ribbons of onions and tarted up with tomato-ginger jam, the last dish among the sumptuous vegetarian options.” The restaurant and inn are dedicated to an over-the-top level of service: “Visitors have been known to be greeted outside with an invitation to tour the hamlet in a horse-drawn carriage.”
O’Connell celebrated the inn’s anniversary last year with four events, including a $2,500-per-person dinner that re-created the experience of dining at the table of George Washington, with Thomas Keller and Alice Waters among the invitees.
The JBF’s lifetime achievement award is “bestowed upon a person in the industry whose lifetime body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and think about food in America,” said the news release. It praised O’Connell for “cultivating fruitful relationships with his neighbors — many of whom have a strong connection to the land” in his small town. In 2017, another local chef, Nora Pouillon, was selected for the lifetime achievement award. Her namesake D.C. restaurant changed the way chefs think about organic produce. Previous winners have included chef Jacques Pepin, critic Craig Claiborne and winemaker Robert Mondavi.
In the news release, O’Connell said he was “humbled” to receive the honor. “I’m living proof that you can hide out in a mountain village with a population of 133 and still be discovered and recognized by your peers,” he said. “The power of good food should never be underestimated.”
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