POQUOSON — Chef Barry Wildman has cooked all over the country in the last 27 years, and one thing he has learned is that cooking with a sense of place makes the food taste better.
This is what he wants customers to feel while visiting his new restaurant in Poquoson, Blue Crab and Purple Pig Bistro.
Located at 8 Victory Blvd., the restaurant opened just four weeks ago, which Wildman said was a month sooner than initially planned.
As COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted in Virginia, Wildman knew that they needed to time the restaurant’s opening soon after.
His instincts proved to be right as the pent-up demand from customers post-pandemic meant that Blue Crab and Purple Pig Bistro was instantly busy.
Wildman wanted to catch that wave so much that the restaurant’s opening came before he even had the chance to set up a website or place any art work on the walls.
The one thing that the restaurant had ready was the food.
“There’s a lot of things guests will forgive you for,” Wildman said. “But what they won’t forgive is the food not being good.”
The years of experience in the kitchen of Blue Crab and Purple Pig Bistro is the reason why the restaurant sees return customers every night.
Wildman has been a chef for 27 years. His head chef, Josh Hutter, has 25 years of experience.
A recently retired U.S. Coast Guard chef who graduated at the top of his class from New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Wildman has an array of culinary knowledge and experience to offer.
Citing his job as a chef for the Coast Guard as to how he fell in love with cooking, Wildman cooked for admirals and served food all over the country from the Florida Keys to the Mississippi River.
As he was stationed in each place, he began seeking out the local ingredients.
“Food takes on a local vibe that just connects with people,” he said.
Wildman soon landed at the Coast Guard Training Center in Yorktown where he trained the cooks for the last four years.
But with a young family (including a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old), Wildman knew it was time to retire.
He fell in love with the area because it reminded him of his home in Ohio – four seasons, but not severe – and moved to Poquoson.
He also met his current wife, Mundia Chitambala, and together they decided to open their own restaurant.
“She’s brilliant, and she handles the finances and the business side of the restaurant,” he said.
The restaurant’s quirky name took a minute-and-a-half to come up with.
Wildman and Chitambala wanted a name that would resonate with the community, as well as speak to the area.
“The whole idea was to create the restaurant with a sense of place,” Wildman said. “So we started thinking about the culinary things around here that we could highlight.”
Poquoson is right on the bay, and as Wildman said, nothing is more synonymous with the Chesapeake Bay than the blue crab.
The “pig” was inspired by Smithfield ham.
“I thought it doesn’t seem fair that the crab has a color and the pig doesn’t,” Wildman said.
From there, Blue Crab and the Purple Pig Bistro was born.
The couple opened the restaurant in late June with an industrial setting vibe in mind as a nod to Poquoson’s fisherman and farmer background.
The restaurant features a zinc-top bar, with industrial lighting, and wood, tile, stone and brick throughout the building.
“Everybody said you can’t do an upscale restaurant in Poquoson,” he said. “Well, we do upscale comfort food.”
One of the restaurant’s two signature dishes is the Flight of the Pig, which Wildman likens to a charcuterie board of meats, with pork belly, pork cheek and smoked bacon.
The other is its Homemade Crab Ravioli, which is similar to a pasta version of crab and corn chowder.
“Our prices are not cheap, because we use good ingredients,” Wildman said.
Wildman says that the restaurant gets its oysters from Poquoson daily, and the seafood is no more than a day out of the water.
“We only use local, we never freeze anything, we make all our own sauces in-house,” Wildman said. “And that costs money. But it also means we control the flavors, we can control how things balance and what ends up on the plate.”
Blue Crab and Purple Pig’s brunches, lunches and dinners have been going strong since opening.
It got so busy, however, that the restaurant’s crew started to get burned out and the restaurant had to stop serving lunches for the time being.
“We’ve since hired one new cook, and as soon as I can get three more cooks, I’m going to open lunches back up again,” Wildman said.
It’s been a whirlwind for the couple since opening their restaurant, so much so that they have not even gotten the chance to decorate the outside, which still resembles the old KenTacoHut that was formerly at that location.
However, the returning customers each night are what’s most important to Wildman.
“We see the same people coming in night after night and bringing new friends and they love the food,” he said.
Wildman plans to hang up pictures and artwork around the restaurant that embraces Poquoson’s past, including sourced black-and-white photos from the 1930s of crabbers and oyster fishermen from the community.
He also plans to have a quote painted on the walls: “A chef owes nobody more than the waterman and the farmer for his craft.”