Thursday, January 3, 2019

Simply Surreal

Reynolds Culinary Student Offered Position
at Top Washington, DC Restaurant

Willoughby Harrington is a man of few words, but a chef-to-be with an abundance of skills. After completing the classroom portion of his culinary education at Reynolds in August 2018, he began an internship with The Inn at Little Washington. A month before his time was up, The Inn offered him a full time position.

But, Willoughby is certainly no ordinary person. And, The Inn at Little Washington is certainly no ordinary restaurant. The two are a perfect match.

To understand why this match is perfect, first consider Willoughby. “Willoughby is exceptional,” says Reynolds Adjunct Faculty Kathleen Cossaboon. So exceptional, Cossaboon asked a friend to make the introductions that landed Willoughby his internship. “He has an acute sense of food, thinks out of the box and is passionate about his craft. He is also humble [painfully so when asked to talk about his achievements!] and is excited to learn new things.  On top of being a committed student he carries himself professionally and has already established his personal brand for the hospitality industry.”

Now, consider The Inn at Little Washington. The Inn’s kitchen has been touted by Washington food critics as “the most beautiful kitchen in the world.” Willoughby says, “The kitchen is like a museum. One person polishes the kitchen’s copper and brass – hoods, ovens, everything - five nights a week when dinner service concludes at midnight.” The “polisher” finishes in time for the first crew to begin at 5 a.m. The 2019 Michelin Guide awarded The Inn at Little Washington its highest accolade of three stars. The coveted third Michelin star makes Patrick O’Connell and The Inn the first and only restaurant in the Washington D.C. region to receive the honor. The Inn’s list of accolades is long and prestigious. It is listed among the top restaurants in the world.

The Reynolds Culinary Arts program has a special way of connecting its students with the places they dream of going. The matches between student and restaurant, like this one between Willoughby and The Inn, seem perfect, almost destine in the stars. During his studies at Reynolds Willoughby discovered The Inn at Little Washington, and its founder and owner Patrick O’Connell. “Patrick O’Connell has been one of my idols for some time now,” said Willoughby, “The Inn was the focus of one of my projects. I recreated one of their recipes.” And now he has met and works with O’Connell. “He is a warm, wonderful, kind person,” Willoughby says, “and a great, great chef. He shakes everyone’s hand at the start of a shift.” The significance of this simple gesture isn’t lost on Willoughby.

Television food shows have fostered the impression that commercial kitchens – particularly those of the most distinctive restaurants – are hectic nightmares with chefs running about yelling, oven fires, and last minute pushes to add garnish to a dish as it heads to the dining room. Not so at The Inn at Little Washington. “The kitchen is incredibly well organized and is run with amazing precision and efficiency,” says Willoughby, “food is sampled several times to assure quality throughout the service time. Chaos here is anything less than perfect.”

While Chef O’Connell considers The Inn at Little Washington, “. . . just a hideaway in the country owned by someone who likes to entertain a lot,” his standards for excellence are sky high and the vetting process for staff members is no spring walk in a Virginia meadow. “My internship “interview” lasted 12 hours,” Willoughby explained, “it involved working two shifts, prepping for lunch and for dinner service, but everyone was so kind, they fed me constantly, every two hours I got to try something.” While perfection is the number one priority, the Dalmatian print chef pants worn by all are a clear indication that the work of The Inn also has its light side.

The Inn being approximately 70 miles from DC, commuting wasn’t an option, so when offered the internship, Willoughby moved to Washington, Virginia. O’Connell being O’Connell, understands student interns have limited resources and has made housing available to them in a property called The Piedmont House.  Not only is he the consummate host to his dining guests, but O’Connell being self-made, and starting his restaurant with a wood burning cook stove and a frying pan, humbly appreciates what it means to start with nothing.

In addition to giving him his introduction to The Inn at Little Washington, Willoughby says, “The most valuable thing I learned at Reynolds was team building. It is so important. When you understand how to work on a team, it all comes together.”

And come together it has for Willoughby. As he finishes his internship he’s debating his next steps. The Inn has a line cook position for him if he wants it, but he says, “I have a lot of options after this.” Right now he is still taking it all in. “This has been a simply great opportunity, a real eye-opener. I have met some of my culinary heroes here. The whole thing has been a surreal experience. Simply surreal.”
Finding yourself in the place of your dreams has that quality. Simply surreal.

Willoughby Harrington will graduate from the Reynolds Culinary Arts program in May of 2019.