The Hunter Chef
By Gianna Volpe
Soft-spoken chef Stephan Bogardus, currently the executive chef at Southold’s famed North Fork Table & Inn, is someone who was raised within the firearms culture. A lifetime resident of the East End, Bogardus said the deep respect he holds for animals — in the wild, and in the kitchen — began after shooting his first, a crow, before eagerly returning home to impress the elder Bogardus boys.
“My grandfather was an Army range instructor at Fort Dix, New Jersey, so he was very regimented, very professional and I thought he saw me as being somewhat short-sighted when I came back to the house so happy to tell him how I shot a crow,” Bogardus recalled of how his grandfather’s tough love taught him one of the hunting lessons he considers most invaluable. “There’s a certain spirituality and respect when you harvest an animal, so my grandfather asked me, ‘Well, what are you going to do with it now that it’s dead?’”
The hunter chef—back then a boy barely in his double digits—was ultimately made to pluck and eat his “completely inedible” prize.
“Talk about getting your point across,” Bogardus said. “It definitely taught me…to not only be selective of an animal, but what your intended uses for the animal are. I remember eating crow—it was so horrible—I remember cutting it into these little tiny pieces, putting it on the grill, then just gnawing away on it. It had this awful flavor; it was like chewing on a rubber band.”
What Bogardus may not have understood in that moment is that his life would become intrinsically tied both to the sport of hunting, and the art of cooking — and that those lessons learned that day would aid him as he pursued both passions.
The 28-year-old chef — and protegé of the late, great Gerard Hayden — and Southold native, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2009.
“[Before attending CIA] my brother would bring home geese and my mom would cook them, but we didn’t really know what we were doing,” said Bogardus. “Then I went away to culinary school, got caught up in the culture of the city and wasn’t outside as much. Then a couple friends got me into bow hunting after I moved back out here and that was a total change because I had the experience of culinary school, the respect of the animal, and was comfortable in my surroundings being on the North Fork, so it felt like everything was just falling into place at the right time. That’s the story of my life and I’m so thankful for it.”
It’s been five years since Bogardus became an avid bow hunter, claiming a deer, he said, every two to three hunts.
“It’s just very different mentalities,” Bogardus said of choosing arrows over gunpowder. “Bow hunters are silent ninjas—you have to get so close and everything has to align perfectly—so you even have to control your breath. You can’t be seen or heard by a wild animal that’s trying to stay alive, so you have to outwit it and stay out of all of their senses.”
This means getting into a tree stand before the forest awakens.
“It’s really very spiritual watching the moon going down and the sun coming up,” he said. “Thirty minutes prior to sunrise the whole world comes alive with the wild turkeys coming down from the trees and the squirrels starting to come out.”
Bogardus said employing a hunter’s approach while assessing personnel and other inner-kitchen issues is making for a unique kitchen environment marked by safety and respect.
“I’m different than most chefs,” explained Bogardus. “I’m really relaxed and soft-spoken…and I get far more quiet during hunting season. I’ve also recently begun practicing mindfulness because a lot of my job in the kitchen is making sure people don’t hurt themselves, because it’s really hot, it’s really small, it’s really fast-paced and it’s extremely dangerous between the knives, fire, gas and being super close together.”
Forget lacking a local slaughter facility, the rising chef said his high ethic is what has kept his venison off the menu at the North Fork Table & Inn, though employees and friends have been able to benefit from the bounty of fresh local meat.
“I don’t believe in ever selling [the venison he hunts] because nature is not here to provide for us fiscally,” said Bogardus. “People approach me all the time asking if they can buy venison and I always say no, though I’ll give them some because I enjoy providing sustenance through a hobby I love.”