Not everything makes Ron Eyester angry.
Rosebud’s executive chef may have earned the moniker The Angry Chef for calling out annoying customer habits on Twitter and other public forums, but I didn’t call to listen to him “keep the landscape realistic,” as he puts it. I had a different question: what was his most memorable and influential dining experience?
For this occasion, Eyester is ecstatic, recalling his one-year anniversary dinner with his wife nine years ago in July at The Inn at Little Washington.
Located in the small town of Washington, Virginia, Patrick O’Connell’s The Inn at Little Washington just may be the sole reason for visiting the area. Consistently rated as one of the top restaurants in the region, the Inn earned a perfect four stars from the Washington Post Dining Guide and has been called one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the World by the International Herald Tribune.
“Dining at the Inn at Little Washington is a cross between Broadway and Disney World,” he says.
Perhaps Eyester should have known what was coming after walking through the front door.
“The dining room guy was wearing a seersucker tuxedo,” he says. “I’ll never forget the jacket had tails on it. It was incredible. I swear to God it was either like a powder blue or a shade of pink. I am not kidding you. Anyone else would look like Jeff Bridges from Dumb and Dumber. He could not look more debonair.”
While Eyester doesn’t remember exactly what he ate — he recalls tuna for an entrée —, the restaurant’s attention to detail left a great impression, especially in the amuse bouches (complimentary pre-appetizers).
“They were all so perfect that they looked fake,” he says. “I was afraid to touch them. I thought they were plastic…I remember one of them was a country ham biscuit. It looked like a toy. It was so small.”
Eyester calls the four-hour dinner a marathon, the kind where you eat dessert in a different room decorated with red velvet.
“It was so decadent. I remember this guy came up to us with a cheese trolley,” he says. “This took the word cheese course just to a totally different level. There must have been thirty cheeses on this trolley, and this guy told us about every one of them…It was like this guy had personally visited each cheese maker.”
As near-perfect service may have been and for all the energy and time that went into the atmosphere, Eyester still remembers one misstep: their wobbly table one server had to fix with a box of matches.
“That’s something that they would do at the Olive Garden,” Eyester jokes. “Like, you would think that at the Inn at Little Washington, the guy would just look at the table and it would balance itself. It was very comforting to see that sense of irony because they were very regular people.”
After service, Eyester toured the kitchen, which was pristine, filled with candelabras and bustling with chefs listening to Gregorian chants playing overhead.
When Eyester returned to Food 101 in Atlanta, where he was sous chef, he pulled out his $822 dinner receipt and jokingly asked for reimbursement for research and development. Eyester says at the time he was concerned mostly with food, but after dining at the Inn, he understood the importance of “dinner theater” and how that affects the dining experience.
“I don’t remember much about the food. But I can see myself sitting in the dining room, and I remember my interactions with the staff very vividly,” he says.
Today, Eyester still pulls inspiration from that meal nine years ago to help his staff at Rosebud. He believes that while customers may be coming in just for a salad and shrimp and grits, service should strive to create a transcendent experience.
At the “surreal” Inn, Eyester doesn’t think customers have much of a choice.
“When you eat at the Inn at Little Washington, you would have to be blind and death to not allow yourself to transcend.”
Note: Eyester did have one angry chef comment.
“People come walking in the door — this is another one of my favorites —, and they’re like, ‘We’d really like to sit out on the patio. What’s it like out there?’ Well, it’s the same as it was right outside that fucking door that you walked through. You know, it’s not a terrarium. It’s a patio. It’s outside.”