For the first time since taking office, President Donald Trump will award the prestigious National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal on Thursday. Among the eight honorees: Inn at Little Washington chef/owner Patrick O’Connell.
A press release from the White House calls O’Connell “one of the greatest chefs of our time” and praises the Inn for raising the culinary arts “to new heights of excellence by embracing regional flavors and championing local farmers.”
O’Connell is currently attending the Relais & Châteaux Congress in London, according to his assistant, and could not immediately be reached for comment. The assistant did not say whether O’Connell is expected to attend Thursday’s White House ceremony, where actor Jon Voight, mystery author James Patterson, and the Musicians of the United States Military are among those being honored. (UPDATE: O’Connell will in fact attend.)
Needless to say, visiting the White House has become risky business in this divisive era. Notably, former Taylor Gourmet owner Casey Patten faced backlash and boycott threats for joining a small business roundtable with the President in 2017. Some insiders claimed the incident was the beginning of the end for the hoagie chain, which filed for bankruptcy last year. More recently, the Nationals managed to dampen the hometown euphoria of their World Series win by visiting the White House. Catcher Kurt Suzuki made his Twitter account private after the onslaught of social media vitriol he faced for wearing a MAGA hat as Trump embraced him on the South Portico.
Then again, the Inn is not located in overwhelmingly anti-Trump DC—even if many of its patrons visit from here. Rappahannock County, where the three Michelin-starred restaurant is located, went decidedly for Trump in the 2016 election.
O’Connell also hasn’t shied away from accepting praise from this administration in the past. A June 2018 letter from Melania Trump congratulating O’Connell on the Inn’s 40th anniversary is framed and hanging on the wall at his establishment.
“The President and I wish the Inn many more years of success,” it reads.