“There’s no other place you can get sunsets quite like this.”
Stephan Bogardus is looking out at the ebb and flow of small waves rolling in so close below the windows of The Halyard at Sound View in Greenport that it’s hard to separate the land from the Long Island Sound waters. Sunset is a few hours away still, the light is still bright on the horizon, but there is a crackle of anticipation. Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed. And there is no doubt that, had Emerson dined here, a tantalizing plate from Bogardus would be added to that very short list of promises delivered.
Since he hopped on a food truck at age 13—or, perhaps, from the moment his mother handed him a knife in the kitchen at age 4 and began exposing him to the wonders of culinary creation and the passion and pleasure of chicken pot pie—Bogardus has pursued the exceptional. At The Halyard, where Bogardus has been Executive Chef since February, there is considerable wind in the sail he has raised as he heads into his first summer at its helm. “This property has such a legacy and history. It is special. And what a lot of other waterfront properties on the North Fork don’t have is really, really exceptional food.”
Grilled natural raised pork chop with organic polenta, spinach, blackberry and bacon gastrique. Slowly cooked local fluke with radish, green chick peas and mint-arugula nâge. House made ricotta cavatelli with snap peas, mushroom Bolognese and black truffle. That’s what we’re talking about, a menu of endless opportunity.
“I’m approaching it with what I call salty seaside classics, but done in a contemporary American style,” Bogardus says with the joy of someone who has focused on the culinary fundamentals long enough to know where he can bend them a bit. “Pushing toward what can’t be done will bring you toward the best, as opposed to just settling on mediocrity, which many people will do, saying ‘good enough,” he says. “There’s a lot of ‘good enough’ mentalities out there.”
Just not here. Ever. Shortly after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2009, Bogardus showed up on the doorstep of the revered North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, where Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming had been redefining the area’s notion of fine cuisine and pioneering local farm-to-table dining. He got the gig, and learned at the hands of two masters. Over the next decade, he would leave Long Island to work in New York City, in Palm Beach at Café Boulud’s (yes, as in Daniel Boulud), at Locust Hill country club in upstate New York, but amid those stints he returned to the North Fork Table & Inn.
In 2012, when Hayden was suffering the increasingly debilitating effects of ALS, Bogardus became his mentor’s hands in the kitchen, forming the kind of bond that will never be broken—that much is clear in Bogardus’s eyes when he recounts their time together. He left again in 2013, but returned following Hayden’s death two years later, and has been rooted on the North Fork ever since.
“There’s a reason I keep choosing to cook here, and it’s because I love this place,” he says. “I love everything about it. I love the people, I love the food, I love the views, I love going to IGA and seeing people I’ve known since I was a little kid. There’s just so much love and joy and support from such a unique community. When I was raised, the vines were very, very young. There were potatoes. You could find an empty beach in July. There weren’t beach-parking passes. So much has changed, but its core has stayed intact.”
Surrounded by the vineyards, farms and waters of a youth growing up in Cutchogue, and the bounty they provide, Bogardus is very much at one with the pulse and rhythm of his environs, exuding an air of serene intensity. Or intense serenity. Maybe it’s the yoga and meditation he has embraced. Regardless, if such a seeming contradiction can exist and thrive anywhere, it is within Bogardus. He is in constant search of harmony—in flavors and colors and textures and life—and the path he must travel to find it.
“Everyone looks to Europe to be the forefront of gastronomic cooking, and they have a very sustainable model. Why is it in America, we think in order to be successful and achieve, we need to work harder or do more? In my early 20s I struggled with addiction and substance abuse and I worked myself really, really hard, and I was very much thriving in that culture. My late 20s and early 30s has been very much filled with self-care and restoration from that troublesome period.”
So he is forever focused on finding a sustainable work model for himself and his team, one that incorporates dedication to work and family and self, finding that aforementioned harmony and his best self in all his worlds. “For me, the emotions and how I feel on the inside, you can tell on the plate. As emotions flare, colors and flavors and things become more jagged and less balanced.”
When he starts talking about creating that mushroom Bolognese pasta dish, he is scientist and artist at once, discussing viscosity and proteins and fats and mousseline, clearly thrilled at classic and avant garde technique merging as one. Creating exciting, exemplary dishes and an unforgettable experience is akin to “creating a narrative and a story,” he says. “Food is one of those things that can evoke so much emotion, just from smell, much less taste, and the actual connection with another human being. Just the physical plate of food itself can do so much for the soul, the heart, the mind, that being able to be part of that is really special.”
A chef creates dishes and food to be shared. Providing the experience and a context is at the heart of the process, and it emanates from the great ones. “The way we live at The Halyard is very ‘one hand in the soil, one hand in the sea,’” says owner Erik Warner. “Not only are chef and his kitchen in tune with where our food comes from, they also encourage guests to be a part of the experience by inviting them over to Peeko Oyster Farm to learn how to shuck oysters, KK’s The Farm to understand biodynamic produce, and to visit local fishmongers to see what is fresh off the docks and where our food is coming from. We exist in a manner that will keep us constantly and uniquely evolving for years to come.”
Evolution is the only way Bogardus knows how to approach his craft. Before starting at The Halyard, he sharpened his skills—and admittedly learned some new ones—with a short stint at Chef Thomas Keller’s legendary French Laundry in Napa Valley. Regarded by many as the top restaurant in the country, French Laundry where Keller himself happened to actually be in-kitchen. “It would be like if you were a musician and Mick Jagger showed up and started performing,” Bogardus says, not trying to hide any reverent awe and some genuine amazement.
Working with other great chefs, experimenting with new techniques and ingredients, traveling the world, taking a walk…inspiration is where one finds it. “I spend a lot of time in nature, and nature is one of the strongest creative forces in the universe,” he says. “But sometimes it does just come to me in a lightning bolt and I have a picture of a finished product, and then I work my way backwards. I’ve had a couple horrible failures and I’ve had a couple really great things.”
The distance between those two points, you might be surprised to find, are not so far apart for Bogardus. “I think too often people are embarrassed by failure, and I think that people create fear-based reactionary emotions around not being what you think is successful, but to truly in order to find that, you have to run toward failure,” he says. “So if I get a new idea or I haven’t done something before, I look for what doesn’t work. Then you can start checking off boxes—no, no, no, no—and eventually you’re going to find that yes. If anxiety and fear stop you from getting to the point where you find no’s, it’s going to be way harder to find yes’s. But if you say yes to too many things, you lose your identity and core.”
It’s been said by certain sunset aficionados that to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. That is achieved only by finding your own center, and the center of your universe, and making it your own, understanding that it is always a journey.
“Being born and raised on the North Fork, then going away and coming home, going away and coming home, it really makes you value what you have. I think that if you try to put together a mantra for life, that’s it—you live through love and gratitude and value those things you have.”
Chef Stephan Bogardus and The Halyard at Sound View in Greenport host the second annual Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork on Saturday, July 13. Tickets are extremely limited and are available at DansTasteOfSummer.com.