Barking Frog’s chef de cuisine Chris Smith is a homegrown success story. In 2016, Zagat honored Smith as one of Seattle’s “30 Under 30” chefs. The year before, he was nominated for the Rising Star award from the International Chefs Congress. And then, on New Year’s Eve, right before the busiest service night of the year, executive chef Bobby Moore gathered all 45 staff members and presented Smith with brand new chefs’ whites emblazoned with “Chef de Cuisine” four years after starting as a line cook. “It was a cool touching moment,” says Smith. “I rode that high through the rest of service that night.”
Smith grew up in Kirkland, the middle of five children. As such, chores were par for the course, says Smith. By the time he was 10, Smith was regularly helping with the cooking detail, and by 14, he thought he might want to pursue a career in the kitchen. Smith and his siblings were all homeschooled, which allowed him to enroll in the culinary program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology at the age of 16.
During his education, Smith worked at the Sahalee Country Club and discovered that he liked taking care of people. Smith committed himself to a life in hospitality, joining the team at the Salish Lodge before starting at Barking Frog in 2012 under chef Bobby Moore.
“Bobby has taught me what it’s like to be a chef. I’ve been cooking for a long time and run other kitchens, but nothing like this,” says Smith, referring to the skill of developing cooks and a sense of identity when it comes to food.
Smith has been overseeing the Barking Frog menu for some time now. He loves that they are not confined to any one genre of cuisine, saying they fit most closely under the “American regional” moniker since they source most of their ingredients locally, even if the dish is inspired by Indonesian or Ecuadorian cuisine.
“The Pacific Northwest is a melting pot. People become this area, and the food becomes the food from here. Fine dining is not what it was in the ’90s, when it was all about the most expensive ingredients like foie gras and truffles. Now it is getting back to the food and building relationships with local farmers, growers, and fishermen.”
Smith says he is excited to be working with local farms and “getting back to the roots of finding out what’s really good.” No longer are chefs stuck with the top three varietals of apples or basil, but can work with farmers to present new flavors and experiences to guests. He notes that it usually takes time to build customer palates to accept new ideas, but it’s a challenge he is happy to tackle one meal at a time.
That is part of the reason he implemented the four-course ala carte menu option ($79), giving guests the opportunity to try two entrees and two sides — multiply that by the number of guests at the table, and conceivably everyone could try a bite of just about everything on the menu. Couple that with the wine-pairing talents of wine director Cara DeLavallade, and a meal becomes a feast (wine pairings extra).