PHOTOS: The Inn at Little Washington’s “Innstock” Food & Music Festival

Yes, that's José Andrés with a llama.

PHOTOS: The Inn at Little Washington’s “Innstock” Food & Music Festival
The Inn at Little Washington's Patrick O'Connell (center) flanked by Maria and Fabio Trabocchi.
Dan About Town

About Dan About Town

Party photographer Dan Swartz’s diary of bashes, benefits, and galas.

Years before Chef Patrick O’Connell decided to convert an aging garage in a tiny town on the outskirts of Washington, DC, into what would become a Michelin-starred restaurant and one of the world’s most iconic inns, he was just another idealistic concertgoer who happened to find himself in the audience at a “music & art fair” on a dairy farm in southern New York.

Over 20 alumni sous chefs returned for Labor Day Weekend.
Guests were given the opportunity to take hot air balloon rides with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

Loosely inspired by his time at Woodstock some 50 years ago, it was O’Connell’s turn to headline a festival over Labor Day weekend as The Inn at Little Washington played host to the inaugural “Innstock” celebration in its hometown of “Little” Washington, Virginia.

Chef José Andrés feeds one of the Inn’s guardian llamas.
The entrance to Innstock 2018.

Marrying O’Connell’s love of food to his love of music, Sunday afternoon and evening’s sold-out festivities provided hundreds of attendees with the opportunity to sample savory and sweet signature plates from nearly two dozen of the country’s rising culinary stars–all the while being treated to live performances from area bands The Duskwhales and Plank Stompers.

Inn alumni chef Stephen Lyons, now Corporate Executive Chef at Clyde’s Restaurant Group, served a “Quiche Lorraine” at his station.
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm Executive Chef Tarver King’s “Chopped Pork and Pickle Hand Rolls in Buckwheat” were a huge hit with the crowd.

What made the occasion particularly noteworthy, however, is the fact that all of the individual food stations lining the property’s so-called “Field of Dreams” that day were helmed by former sous chefs of the Inn. “I like to say that for anyone who missed Woodstock, this may be the next best thing, however, with much better food,” quipped O’Connell.

Inn alumni chef Raffaele Dall’erta, now Executive Chef of Hamptons Restaurant, came all the way from South Carolina for the occasion.
Special “Innstock Dollars”, featuring Chef Patrick’s profile, could be redeemed for various alcoholic beverages and gifts.

While each of these alumni chefs are now proprietors and executive chefs of their own individual acclaimed restaurants, they all took the time over the weekend to “return to the mothership” that helped steer their culinary careers for a family reunion of sorts.

The Inn at Little Washington’s current Executive Sous Chef Andrew Wright, on a rare day off, is flanked by Ace and Cody Mendelsohn (left) and Chef Spike Mendelsohn (right).
Inn mascot Luray the Dalmatian wore a bespoke tie-dyed shirt to the celebration.

“A special bond is created with people who work together for a long time in a restaurant; they become a family,” O’Connell said. “It’s a bit like being war buddies because in a kitchen we all go through a battle together every night in such a high stress zone. A chef becomes not only a mentor, but a surrogate parent to a young protégé. Knowledge is transmitted from generation-to-generation. It was fascinating to see colleagues again from all eras of the restaurant’s history. Some were meeting each other for the first time at Innstock, but discovering that they had much in common.”

Guests Brian and Madison Smith enjoying the evening.
Wood-smoked barbecue.

One of the things they all had in common was a love for the Inn’s stunning location at the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, which served as the perfect backdrop for those guests who chose to take a ride in a hot air balloon that had been procured for the day.

Cameron Smith, The Inn at Little Washington’s cheese specialist, performed a special set in honor of Jimi Hendrix.
A spectacular grand finale fireworks display concluded the event.

Among the notable folks spotted “going up on a Sunday” were fellow Michelin-starred restaurateurs chef José Andrés and chef Fabio and Maria Trabocchi, along with Washington, Virginia, Mayor John Fox Sullivan.

A Cher look-alike performed all of the pop star’s hits during a series of sets throughout the day.
Groovy dance moves.

And while many a selfie was taken with the Cher, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin look-alikes roaming the grounds, it was the 20-minute barrage of fireworks signaling the conclusion of the evening that was truly picture perfect.

The sunset behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.
O’Connell and Andrés take flight together.
“Black Truffle Tacos” courtesy of Inn alumni Chef Kevin Binkley.
A welcome sign greeted visitors and returning chefs at the entrance to Little Washington, Virginia.
Chef Patrick O’Connell and “Cher” enjoying the fireworks.