Forget the typical rubber-chicken, black-tie dinner. When serving dinner to a crowd of more than 500, Patrick O’Connell does it up. At a star-studded, $575-a-plate gala at the Mellon Auditorium, the chef celebrated the 30th anniversary of his award-winning restaurant, the Inn at Little Washington, with a seven-course gourmet dinner. From soup—a demitasse of minted pea soup—to nuts—served with the cheese course—the meal was a gourmand’s delight. And in between courses the foodie set had stars in their eyes as culinary pioneers from the last 30 years were honored, including former Washington Post food critic Phyllis Richman and chefs Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, Charlie Trotter, and Daniel Boulud.
Read on for the best moments of the night.
Host with the most: O’Connell kicked off the evening saying that the only thing you could compare the night with was an Irish funeral or Jewish wedding. He then toasted the crowd with “Mazel tov!” and slugged back a shot of Irish whisky.
Best entrance: Guests were saluted by children dressed as toy soldiers at the top of the red carpet.
Best junior-high-dance moment: The guest who remarked, “Did they just play ‘Pump Up the Jam’ as mistress of ceremonies Andrea Mitchell walked onstage? Did they steal this soundtrack from an eighth-grade girl’s mix tape?”
Most awkward moment: Andrea Mitchell describing husband Alan Greenspan as “such a romantic.” No one wants to think of Greenspan as a Casanova, just the maestro of America’s economy.
Best auction item: During the final live-auction item, six of the chefs honored that night—Daniel Boulud, Gary Danko, Dean Fearing, Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, and Alice Waters—offered a dinner for 12 in the winner’s home, with a course cooked by each of their sous chefs.
Most excited auctioneers: Trotter and Boulud, who kept upping the ante, increasing that dinner to 16 people and adding in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park and a magnum of wine from each chef’s personal collection. Boulud offered to host the dinner at his Manhattan home. Trotter, who put in a bid of his own, volunteered for Keller to make breakfast for the group. Finally, Trotter promised a nude picture of O’Connell if the bid hit the $100,000 mark.
Guest wondering what to do with a nude picture of O’Connell: Amherst Securities Group president Sean Dobson, who bid $105,000 for the dinner, wine, and nude portrait.
Guest with the best after-school job: Phyllis Richman’s daughter Libby Richman, who as a teenager babysat Alice Waters’s daughter. Libby, head of production at Half Yard Productions, is now expecting her second child.
Guest with the best buzz: Proof owner Mark Kuller, who brought several of his own bottles of wine to go with dinner.
Best swag: A copy of Zagat’s America’s Top Restaurants 2008. Bags also included a Wedgwood china dish inscribed with “Inn at Little Washington,” Harney’s tea that was custom-blended for the event, and two John Kelly truffle-fudge bars.
Warm-and-fuzzy feeling for the night: The dinner and auction raised more than half a million dollars for Five & Alive, an international relief charity for children.
For more dining and area restaurant news, click here.