One of my very favorite assignments of all-time took place last summer when I was asked to go to the Inn at Little Washington to photograph proprietor and chef Patrick O’Connell. The storied hotel and restaurant serves as a brilliant example of how to do it right. Classic and elegant, yet dotted with eclectic touches, it makes visitors- even ones like me whose purpose there was strictly business- feel like they’ve been transported down the rabbit hole to a place where everything is better. I shouldn’t be so surprised that true hospitality professionals would handle even a lowly photographer like an important guest. “But Melissa!” you say- “Was your coverage influenced and your integrity compromised by all this marvelousness?” Weeeeellllll, let’s just say that said marvelousness put me in the exact right frame of mind to try to capture the essence of the Inn and its mastermind chef. The assignment was actually for a WSJ column called “Just One Thing,” a delightful little feature where master craftsmen and women are interviewed with their favorite, most unusual and indispensable tools. In Chef O’Connell’s case, it was the chinois, a very fine conical mesh strainer that refines soups and purees to give them an ethereal, velvety texture. Read the column here.Chef gave me a bit of an etymology lesson, saying that chinois was French for “Chinese” and was named for the classic conical hats of the far east. There is actually another kitchen tool called the china cap that is not as fine of a strainer, but has the same look and purpose. Chef demonstrated the powers of the chinois with fresh raspberries. He made a puree, which chopped up the seeds pretty finely. On its own, the sauce would be tasty, but quite a bit pebbly with all those seeds. After passing through the chinois, the resulting sauce was pure effing magic. Pardon my French. Holy hell, this place makes good food. For a reason. Seriously, it’s widely considered to be not just one of the best restaurants in the region, but in the entire world. Such a simple thing, raspberry puree- refined to transcendence. As a child and teenager I would rabidly watch episodes of Great Chefs on PBS, before the gaudy showmanship of the Food Network turned cooking shows low rent. I’m a life-long lover of the culinary arts who has enjoyed the foodie revolution as an adult, but I’ve never come close to experiencing the true meaning of fine dining before. This assignment gave me a glimpse of the next level and I hope ever so much to be able to afford to visit as a guest someday. Turns out next-level food ain’t cheap.
As a footnote, I would like to kindly request from my editors more culinary shoots, please. xoxo