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The hunt for excellence

The sowing of seeds, ripening of fruit, harvesting of crops; Stephan Bogardus is a 32-year old chef who revels in the biological and spiritual relationships of food. “For me hunting is another exploration of spirituality,” Bogardus said, camo-clad, moving past vines of fumé blanc planted by the Hargraves in the ‘70s and now part of the 89-acre vineyard owned by his wife’s family. He is a bowhunter, at one with the land he hunts, and not eager to reveal the exact location of the tree stand he’s going to shoot from. A red-tailed hawk glided in a slow circle overhead looking for mice. 

“My life has a series of these loops that interconnect in a way that brings me joy,” he said. He describes hunting as a way of creating symbiosis. “I have a very intense desire to close the loop on our food system. I know what the inside of a deer carcass smells like. I know how to talk like a goose.”

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

In the bowhunting season that goes from October through January, Bogardus spends as much time as he can in the vineyard waiting for deer and watching, a practice that helps him still the kinetic tendencies that he’s struggled with all his life. “Now I can sit in meditation for an hour. Part of that comes from being able to sit in a tree stand for an hour.” 

Bogardus may be the most talented chef ever produced by the East End, and he cooks the way he hunts: Fast and productive. “I kill a deer every three hunts. In order to make that happen, I failed a lot and had to figure it out. I can’t make a deer walk in front of me,” he said.

I am able to respect and care for a product from its fresh state like a deer; how to harvest, to age it, process it and care for it.

Stephan Bogardus

When he left North Fork Table & Inn, the celebrated Southold restaurant that was the place of his training and later his triumph, it was a real shift for Bogardus. Could he become a chef who manages chefs and still be connected to the food with this same intensity? 

Bogardus went to The Halyard as executive chef, improving the quality and profitability by hovering over the kitchen like a genie guiding the hands and hearts of his chef de cuisine and kitchen crew. Recently promoted, he’s relaunching a trattoria called Glorietta in Jackson, Wyo., requiring him to travel for two weeks out of every three months for his employer, a new role that seems likely to expand his world even as he deepens his roots in the North Fork. He’s newly married to Allegra Borghese, a local woman from a wine-producing family, and they are buying a home in Baiting Hollow. Bogardus dreams of raising a child there with her. 

(Photo Credit: Paul Prissman)

Bogardus is forthright and unapologetic. Tall and lithe, with his yellow curls tied in a knot for hunt or kitchen, the cameras of the Food Network can barely contain him in appearances on Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, and the new Crash Kitchen. He puts it all out there: the ‘Grown on Long Island’ tattoo on his shoulder and the eight years of sobriety that followed a youth of alcohol and drugs. 

He was grown on Long Island, where his parents still live, and although he and his wife did not fall in love until they were both in their 20s, they’ve been friends since they met as new-to-the school 13-year-olds in Mattituck. 

Bogardus grew up the baby in a family with three older siblings. When he was still too young for school, his mother handed him a paring knife and told him to prepare the broccoli. By the time he hit middle school he was working a food truck; paid in cash, eating the house-made sausages and drinking beer. 

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

“At the time, I thought chefs were the guys chain-smoking cigarettes in back of Applebees,” Bogardus said. A few kitchen jobs later, he met chef Tom Seibert at Four Doors Down in Mattituck. They deboned a rabbit and made galantine. “Tommy started giving me books about certified master chefs, and charcuterie, and garde manger,” Bogardus said. 

He graduated from Mattituck High School, struggling academically, he said, “but every time I stepped into a kitchen I felt the inner-me would glow and brighten.” 

He studied at The Culinary Institute of America, where an externship at The Breakers in Palm Beach was his entrée to a kitchen with an extremely refined way of cooking. “As my world grew, I saw that there was a huge difference between a cook and chef,” he said. 

After graduation in February of 2009, he turned down an apprenticeship in Germany to stay close to his then-girlfriend and landed back in Cutchogue with a DUI and no job. When Bogardus knocked on the back door of the North Fork Table & Inn and asked Gerry Hayden for work, he had no idea that he’d be working for the distinguished chef of Tribeca Grill and Aureole, and Claudia Fleming, his wife and an acclaimed pastry chef of Gramercy Tavern. “I just knew it was the best restaurant around,” he said. 

(Photo Credit: Paul Prissman)

Bogardus saw at once that working with Hayden was unlike anything he had experienced. “Gerry was revered by people that worked for him because he didn’t give you a piece of the loop,” he said. “He held you responsible for the whole entire loop. Ordering, prepping your station, setting up your station, cooking during service while you are plating, cleaning up your station and writing a prep list for the next day. He held you to a level of awareness that other people just didn’t.”

There was constant pressure to improve, and Bogardus felt no boundaries. “The limits of what I thought I could achieve — he would just destroy. That was a recurring theme in our relationship. Whenever I thought I was maxed out, he would get me to be so much better.” 

Their relationship was familial; in the depth of their mutual admiration, the traits they shared, and in their ability to hurt each other. Bogardus left North Fork Table twice while working for Hayden, the first time for a job in New York. “For so long I wanted a Michelin star and wanted to be in the city,” said Bogardus, “but with me being an alcoholic it was too extreme for me. As an alcoholic, I have an insane desire for more.”

Bogardus began to try and deal with his alcoholism, and find healthier ways of living. “Self-care … that is some elusive s— for someone like me. I had no idea what self-care was for so long, I spent so much time trying to figure it out and I always failed so miserably.” Meditation and exercise and time in the deer stand are only part of it, he said. “Self-care is a set of needs that we provide for ourselves … sobriety gave me the gift of finding it.”

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

He was working at Restaurant Daniel in New York when he heard that Hayden had been diagnosed with ALS and had a grim prognosis. He went back to North Fork Table, stayed another two years as Hayden’s condition deteriorated, and was preparing to leave for a job in Rochester, N.Y., when their relationship ruptured. Hayden called Bogardus disloyal and fired him. Although Bogardus said they reconciled, they never worked together again. In 2015, Claudia Fleming called Bogardus to tell him that the man who was the guiding force of his career had died, and she needed his help. 

Bogardus returned for the last time to North Fork Table to pitch in until Fleming could sell the business. Instead, he blossomed, creating his own style of cooking, raising the profile of the restaurant, and boosting business. A New York Times restaurant critic took notice. 

Shortly after moving back, Bogardus discovered that tragedy had brought Allegra Borghese back to the North Fork as well; her parents, winery owners Marco and Ann Marie Borghese, died suddenly within a few days of each other. Newly single after the breakup of a long relationship, Bogardus made a reservation at Per Se on Allegra’s birthday and asked her out on a date. They married in 2019. 

After three years as chef at North Fork Table Bogardus found some business partners and tried to buy the restaurant from Fleming, but the deal fell through. “There was no more for me to do. It’s as if you ask someone to marry you and they say no. You don’t try to salvage the relationship, you find someone to say yes.” 

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

Working for a corporation that operates a number of boutique inns and restaurants brings a new set of challenges, and Bogardus is grappling with how to direct teams that serve hundreds of diners a night, while satisfying the expectations of customers who assume their homegrown chef will direct their meal, even if he is not on the property. “I don’t think it’s fair that I am held to the standard that I kept at North Fork Table. I had a role in every dish on every night at North Fork. That is impossible to do at Halyard,” he said. “I try to create systems to make the food shine.” 

Bogardus is grateful for the extraordinary restaurants, wineries, fishers and farms that make the North Fork’s food ecosystem. The relationships that tie the people who make wine and grow cauliflower, and catch stripers, gut and cook them is a source of strength and belonging that gives him what he needs. “It’s like there is this big mature fruit tree and there’s more than enough fruit for all of us to fill up our baskets for the winter. And we don’t have to take fruit from someone else’s basket. There’s more than enough to go around.”