Patrick O’Connell can now add movie star to a list of titles that includes hotelier of a Relais & Châteaux inn and chef of a restaurant that holds three Michelin stars.
O’Connell allowed a production crew to follow him and his staff around for a year while filming the Inn at Little Washington: A Delicious New Documentary. The doc, which explores how the chef in the Dalmatian print apron spent four decades building up the Inn inside a sleepy Virginia mountain town, will premier at the Virginia Film Festival next month in Charlottesville. It will get a national run on PBS early next year thanks to a partnership with Virginia’s Home for Public Media (VPM).
The Inn at Little Washington serves tasting menus of O’Connell’s haute American cuisine that start at $248. With the documentary, the chef wants to show everything that goes into an ultra-luxe experience meant to compete with stays at European castles.
“The film paints an accurate, unvarnished picture of my life’s work,” O’Connell says in a statement sent to Eater. “My hope is that viewers will leave with a greater understanding of what it takes for a restaurant to survive and flourish for more than four decades. Perhaps next time they go to a Michelin-starred restaurant, they may have a fuller appreciation for the value of the experience.”
Snippets viewers get from the movie include a scene in the trailer in which O’Connell tells a chef he “cut the Parmesan like a coal miner.”
“It’s either art or garbage,” O’Connell explains in the trailer. “Anything we do has to be extraordinary.”
The star’s flair for the dramatic pays off for production company Show of Force, which made the documentary as part of its development deal with D.C.-based celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn, an executive producer on the project.
During the course of filming, O’Connell celebrates the Inn’s 40th anniversary and achieves his ultimate goal of pushing the Inn to become the only restaurant in Michelin’s D.C. guide to win three stars. This year, the James Beard Foundation gave O’Connell its lifetime achievement award.
“All that is just stuff that dreams are made of, but that is exactly Patrick. He takes you on this journey,” Mendelsohn says. “That’s just he beauty of him.”
Mendelsohn describes the documentary as “Chef’s Table meets Downton Abbey.” In the movie, O’Connell and his staff describe what it takes to run the high-end tasting menu restaurant and go through all of the chef’s struggles to get it off the ground. A central source of conflict is O’Connell’s often fraught relationship with a rural, conservative town that wasn’t ready to embrace a gay chef with a grand vision when he first opened in 1978.
“There would be a lot of hazing outside of the restaurants, some headlines out there that were really tough to swallow concerning the idea of you being able to catch something by eating at the Inn at Little Washington,” Mendelsohn says.
Here’s a look at the trailer: