After building the Barking Frog at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville into a respected fine-dining destination and a fertile training ground for young chefs, chef Bobby Moore announced Friday, June 24, that he’s leaving the restaurant after 20 years to open a new restaurant on the Eastside. Dylan Herrick, a longtime Barking Frog cook who started there as a dishwasher 16 years ago, is taking over as executive chef as Moore prepares to open his restaurant, details of which he says he’ll announce in mid-July.
When Moore arrived at the Willow’s Lodge, Woodinville didn't have all of the wine cellars and high-end restaurants it has now, and his chef friends in Seattle wondered why he was moving out to the country. But Moore loved the natural beauty of the Willows Lodge, and he quickly turned the Barking Frog into a fine dining restaurant that competed with those in Seattle. “We didn’t rest on our laurels knowing we were one of the only restaurants out here,” Moore says. “We continually pushed to get to a higher level.”
Moore also turned the lodge into a teaching kitchen, a place where young chefs could pick up the skills to prosper in the field, including Josh Delgado, the chef and part-owner of Fremont French restaurant Le Coin, and Brian Figler, who was the head chef at MOD Pizza and has worked as a lead instructor at Le Cordon Bleu.
One of the chefs Moore took under his wing was Herrick, who originally started working in his kitchen as a dishwasher 16 years ago and quickly moved up the ranks. Even when Herrick left the restaurant for stints at spots like the Alexis Royal Sonesta Hotel in Downtown Seattle and at Japanese steakhouse Kokkaku (where he got a shout-out for his work from former Seattle Times food critic Providence Cicero, making one of her favorite 25 bites in Seattle in 2017), Moore would regularly call to check in on him, sometimes even calling his mom to make sure he was doing okay.
In September, while Herrick was taking a break from kitchens during the pandemic to work as a construction project manager, he received a call from Moore asking him to come back to the Barking Frog, an offer he says he couldn’t refuse. “I grew up here, and I made mistakes here, at work and outside of work. I was trying to figure out who I was, and I went through my trials and tribulations and this guy stuck with me through it all,” Herrick says.
Moore says he feels happy passing on the reins to someone who understands the philosophy and vision of the Barking Frog and who he trusts to fulfill it. “I built this place. My sweat and my blood and my tears run deep in the walls here,” Moore says. “And I wanted to leave it in a place with someone who knew what the vision was and who can enhance and build on it.”
Though Herrick says he isn’t changing the kitchen culture at Barking Frog, he is amping up the restaurant’s focus on sustainability and using local ingredients. He says the most recent menu is the most vaguely worded the Barking Frog has ever seen, something he does on purpose to be able to swap out various local ingredients in a dish, allowing greater collaboration with local farmers.
Herrick also has a relationship with Row 7 Seed Company, which allows him to grow experimental plant varieties and serve them at his restaurant before other farmers and chefs in the state. For example, he’s currently growing a pea tendril that’s bred specifically for a tender vine, making it less fibrous than other vines being served as a spring vegetable at many fine-dining restaurants in Seattle.
This type of close relationship with farms is seen at many smaller high-end restaurants around the city but is rare for institutions like the Barking Frog, which serves three meals a day for the Willows Lodge’s guests 365 days a year. For this summer, Herrick’s also planning on reinstating tasting menu diners and is going to collaborate with local winemakers and other growers and producers for one-off events.
Ultimately, Herrick says the Barking Frog is a special place for him, and he’s excited to train the next generation of talent in the restaurant’s kitchen.
“I met my wife here sixteen years ago at the lodge. I was a cook and she was a host, and now we have a family together,” he says. ”This is a huge full-circle moment for me.”