Charles Walpole will cook his last meal at Babirusa on May 31, less than three months after his new restaurant opened in Belltown.
While the chef didn’t provide a ton of details, it’s not an animosity thing, and not a business decision. Walpole has some health issues that he, understandably, doesn’t want to go into. And apparently they’re incompatible with running a large restaurant where he puts out tasting menus alongside an a la carte menu that changes pretty much every day.
Ryan Miller, Babirusa’s sous chef, will take over the executive chef role. He’s been with Walpole since he and business partner Rene Gutierrez opened Blind Pig Bistro in Eastlake. When its successor, Babirusa, went on hiatus to seek a new location, Miller cooked at Sitka and Spruce and Damn the Weather, where he was executive chef by the time Babirusa was ready in its current digs in Belltown.
It was always the plan to have Miller take over, says Walpole. He figured it would be a few years from now, but “life has kind of dictated that has to happen sooner than anticipated.”
Walpole and Gutierrez say Babirusa’s soon-to-be chef is already responsible for much of the menu (and Gutierrez will provide steadiness and continuity, especially in the front of house). The three times I’ve dined at its new iteration thus far, some of my favorite dishes ended up being Miller’s creations, like the duck rillette atop hearty oat crackers. Still, Walpole’s sensibilities pretty much defined Babirusa—and its progenitor, Blind Pig Bistro—and, I would argue, made it great.
"I wouldn’t expect big changes; I want to keep things the way we are," says Miller. Some of his plans, like cooking with whole animals, aren't so much a divergence from Walpole as an embrace of stuff they couldn't do in their old kitchen. And, thank god, Miller says he’s pro-crudo: “I can’t do it quite as well as Charles, but I’m getting there.”
"He’ll be even better,” says Walpole. You can't miss the fondness in his voice.
Walpole's departure is definitely the biggest change happening here, but other things are afoot as well, like the debut of the enormous patio, refreshed from its Kushibar days. The June 10 patio launch party involves a whole roast pig, a nod to the Beastlake dinners of yore (I guess we know who will be manning the whole animal situation).
But before that, you've got another week to get to Babirusa for a final meal with Walpole's direct stamp on it. The chef isn't entirely sure what's next, but he's going to take some time to rest up.