Chef Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming hired the baby-faced Stephan Bogardus shortly after they opened The North Fork Table & Inn in Southold in 2006.
It was heady times for Bogardus, fresh from the Culinary Institute of America, working for Hayden, a three-time James Beard award nominee and a pioneer in farm-to-table dining, now a staple at many fine restaurants.
“Gerry didn’t teach me recipes, he taught me techniques,” Bogardus says. “It was also a great opportunity to learn menu design and management. I learned how to put the pieces of the puzzle together while having a really strong mentor.”
After two years, thinking he had learned all he could at North Fork Table, Bogardus headed off for a job in Florida. The following year, he asked if he could spend his summer vacation with his old mentor, who by then had been diagnosed with ALS, the neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Bogardus stayed on, executing his mentor’s creations as the disease slowly stripped Hayden of his motor skills.
“I was the hands for his mind,” Bogardus says.
When the 50-year-old Hayden passed away, Fleming and her partners, hospitality experts Mike and Mary Mraz, were unsure of what direction the restaurant should take, and briefly put the property up for sale. Then, unanimously, they offered the job to Bogardus.
“We figured out what was working, what wasn’t and how to make the restaurant thrive,” he says. “We started evaluating our techniques and have been vigilant on what goes on the plate, trying to keep every dish locally sourced.”
The press quickly took notice, with The New York Times giving glowing marks, saying, “Nearly everything we tried was exemplary. The dream continues.”
The positive reviews have attracted many aspiring chefs to head east to work with Bogardus and what he calls the Table’s “encouraging vibes.”
“Young cooks who are driven tend to go where the accolades are, so we’ve got a great crew working here now,” he says. “We’re a bunch of food nerds who take pride in what we do and in sharing the experience.”
For Bogardus, that means maintaining the Table’s deep-rooted relationships with local farmers and keeping an eye on the ledgers, his second love.
“Next to food, numbers are the things I like the most. I like the intricacies and details of the food, but then I like to go to the books,” he says.
The combination of Hayden’s mentoring and Bogardus’ giving nature has brought a new spirit to The North Fork Table & Inn.
“I want to harvest that energy and reciprocate to others what Gerry had done for me,” Bogardus says. “It’s just a part of who I am.”
The North Fork Table & Inn, 57225 Main Rd., Southold. 631-765-0177 northforktableandinn.com