From a pit stop to the Blue Rock

Blue Rock Inn chef Gerard Pangaud in the kitchen with chef Rachel Rowland. Photo by Alex Sharp.

Said Hawa’s dream all his life has been to own an inn. After turning off of U.S. 211 for a pit stop at the Blue Rock Inn in 2008, his dream came to life.

“I came in to use the bathroom,” Hawa said, chuckling. “Afterward, I looked around. I loved the land. The view was magnificent. And from there, I started asking questions.”

The Blue Rock was listed on the real estate market shortly after Hawa returned to Northern Virginia. His decision was an easy one. He bought the 85-acre property, which consisted of quality horse land, and a struggling restaurant and inn. The Jerusalem-born entrepreneur credits sister-in-law Mati Miller with initiating the project, which included an extensive overhaul of the building.

“Everything has been improved, from floor to ceiling,” Miller said, pointing to refurbished walls, new furniture, and polished floors. Local landscaper Robert Lysaght is also leading an extensive outdoor renovation around the front entrance to the restaurant.

Miller hopes the Blue Rock can become a cornerstone of the local community, a center for employment and social activity, while at the same time maintaining a strong reputation for fine dining. Selection of qualified staff was crucial to his plan.

That’s why world-renown French chef Gerard Pangaud, with nearly 40 years experience in fine dining, was brought in. When Jim Offutt interviewed for the general manager position, Pangaud was impressed by his background in retail and high-end dining.

“There’s a lot going on,” Offutt said, noting that part of his job as general manager of the revamped, fine dining restaurant, inn and pub is to coordinate with the owners, chefs and the innkeeper about ongoing service issues, budgets, marketing and event planning. “To that end, we’re planning a series of musical events on the patio, ways to handle the challenges that brings, essentially running two restaurants out of one little kitchen.”

Katie Spicer practices martini-mixing in the Blue Fox Pub. Photo by Alex Sharp.

The Blue Rock is essentially split in two, between a high-end, main dining area that serves French-inspired cuisine by Pangaud, and a pub that offers a diverse drink selection and its own menu, which is chef Rachel Rowland’s domain.

Each menu oozes the personality of the chef. Pangaud’s menu echoes his classical culinary training in France since graduating high school at age 16. Rowland’s multicultural cooking style, which was shaped by her 10 years as a chef at the former Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Flint Hill, reflects her local roots.

While Pangaud has the last word in the kitchen, he enjoys the cultural and culinary differences between the two chefs.
“Each person needs to keep their own personality,” Pangaud said. “She’s from here. She loves to be here, I think it’s very important. When you speak about local ingredients, one of the main ingredients are the people.”

Owner Said Hawa considers the Rappahannock County community vital to the success of the Blue Rock.

“I’m very sensitive to the community, and I want to be part of the community, and I want the community to be part of us,” he said, citing the mostly-local staff, the utilization of local produce in the restaurant menu, and Pangaud’s cooking class that will be offered to residents this June on Saturday mornings.

Fate works in mysterious ways. Looking back on it, Hawa considers pulling over to use the restroom in this tiny town two years ago was one of the best decisions of his life.

“And you should see the bathrooms now,” Hawa laughed. “They’re beautiful!”