The Inn at Little Washington: About the Show - PBS Food

The Inn at Little Washington: About the Show

The Inn at Little Washington, originally constructed in 1905 by Edward Thornton and decorated by London set designer Joyce Conway Evans.
The Inn at Little Washington, originally constructed in 1905 by Edward Thornton and decorated by London set designer Joyce Conway Evans. Credit: Gordon Beall

Known as “The Pope of American Cuisine,” Chef Patrick O’Connell is a legend. He’s revered as a pioneer of refined American cooking, and as the eclectic restaurateur who transformed a country inn into an international culinary temple. But, behind the fairytale – behind the humor and whimsy – lies a story of a self-taught chef who started with nothing and overcame a decades-long feud with a fiercely conservative rural town to create one of the most renowned restaurants in America.

From Emmy and Peabody award winning SHOW OF FORCE, in association with VPM, Virginia’s home for public media, and Spike Mendelsohn, comes a delicious new documentary that intimately explores the ornate world of Chef Patrick O’Connell and his magnificent obsession: the double five star, double five diamond, Michelin-starred restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington. Considered one of the greatest dining experiences in America with the quirkiest characters imaginable, our film follows both front and back of house as this “chef’s chef” and his team celebrate their 40th year while chasing the ultimate accolade… a third Michelin star.

We begin in Washington, Virginia – a tiny hamlet nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Inn’s staff outnumber the locals. It was here, in 1978, that O’Connell converted an abandoned garage into a restaurant, and the locals tried to run him out of town. But brick by brick, plate-by-plate, year-by-year, O’Connell continues to expand his oasis, a masterpiece of design that includes the restaurant, a village of cottages, guest houses, immaculate gardens and a farming operation where kings and queens, celebrities, and the political and media elite find luxurious escape and indulgence. Immersed behind the scenes we see a play within a play unfold, and meet the eccentric ensemble of cooks, waiters, housekeepers, gardeners and managers devoted to carrying out O’Connell’s vision of excellence no matter how demanding it may be.

On the cusp of the Inn’s 40th anniversary comes the most important day for any chef: the Michelin star announcements. With the disappointing news that they’ve simply maintained their two-star status, the dejected team vows to up their game on all fronts – including executing an outrageously complex event, where O’Connell channels the spirit of George Washington with the recreation of an 18th century dining experience, an extravagant night on the grounds of Mount Vernon.

Our cameras are with O’Connell every step of the way, revealing his dramatic origin story and following him on a Thoreauvian journey into the woods where his love of cooking was born. We meet locals who describe the resistance O’Connell faced as an outsider staking a claim in the town. And we watch the team work themselves into a frenzy waiting for Michelin to call with news of triumph… or tragedy.

Carefully sprinkled with gorgeous truffle topped popcorn and carpaccio of lamb with Caesar salad ice cream, the documentary reveals the humor and determination required to succeed through turbulent times, as one man achieves his version of the American dream in the sleepy countryside of Virginia.

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