By Annette Hinkle
Last winter, Nicholas Vogel made the decision to move from Washington, D.C., to Sag Harbor so he could take over as executive chef at the Restaurant at Baron’s Cove. At the time, he envisioned a smooth transition to life on the East End. After all, though coronavirus was on the horizon, it had not yet surfaced in the United States.
But it didn’t take long for the pandemic to alter his plans.
Vogel’s first challenge was finding a place to live. With so many people fleeing New York City, the apartments on the South Fork that Vogel and his girlfriend, Sabrina Kelly, thought would be available this spring ended up being snapped up in the frenzy. But fate and fortune intervened, and the couple managed to secure an apartment over Jack Tagliasacchi’s Madison Street eatery, Il Capuccino Ristorante. Though Vogel was slated to start work at Baron’s Cove in April, the end date for his Washington gig was extended and it wasn’t until early May that he finally made it to Sag Harbor.
But Vogel hit the ground running, and by May 28, Baron’s Cove was open and ready for business, serving newly created dishes from Vogel’s menu, albeit with a full slate of COVID-19 safety measures in place.
“Whatever was challenging before, the present is what requires the most attention to detail,” said Vogel. “It’s about health and safety now, CDC guidelines and social distancing. We’re cognizant and in a constant stage of inspection.”
Vogel knows the restaurant business well. A native of Philadelphia, his family owned a bar/restaurant when he was growing up, and although he says he did everything in his power to not go into the food business — even earning a degree in finance to change the course of his future — in his early 20s he had an epiphany and realized he wanted to cook.
Prior to arriving in Sag Harbor, Vogel worked as the executive chef at Alta Strada in Washington, an Italian restaurant owned by Schlow Restaurant Group (founded by James Beard Award winning chef Michael Schlow). Previously, he had been executive sous chef at the group’s Casolare. Vogel adds that the upside to his somewhat turbulent arrival in Sag Harbor is the fact that, with the restaurant closed for the month of May, he had time to develop his menu and configure dining areas without the stress of daily service. He explains that this summer, outdoor terrace and lawn seating has been expanded at Baron’s Cove and can accommodate 72 diners. Another 70 guests can be seated inside the restaurant with safe social distancing.
Since he arrived, Vogel has established relationships with several local seafood purveyors, dairy farms and cheese makers, as he gets to know the growers and fisher folk from whom he is securing his ingredients.
“Haskell’s Seafood and Braun Seafood Co. are two companies we love working with. Captain Peter Haskell will text me early in the morning to fill me in on his catch and hours later you will find that fresh seafood on your plate,” he said. “I can tell you the boat that the fish came off of.”
Vogel, who had no prior experience with the East End, was surprised to discover the vibrancy of the farming and fishing industry and he has quickly embraced the idea of using local ingredients, even in the off season.
“It’s getting back to nature and taking advantage of the downtime winters and falls offer,” he said. “This is a time not lost on me. Having time to find out what I want to cook and having that down time, it’s all beneficial to the restaurant, to myself and the guests.”
Perhaps it will come as no surprise that seafood figures prominently in Vogel’s new menu, and one of his favorite dishes in the Baron’s Cove lineup is the South Fork fluke crudo, served with hibiscus and avocado mousse, pistachio, green apple and jalapeño. It’s a dish that speaks directly to the fresh seafood of the East End that he is so excited about using.
Interestingly, while Sag Harbor and Baron’s Cove represent new terrain for Vogel, this is not his first time working for Cape Resorts, which owns the property. Earlier culinary experiences for Vogel included chef positions at sister properties in Cape May, New Jersey — The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia Hotel and the farm kitchen at Beach Plum Farm.
And though Vogel admits he left Cape May with a desire for big city exposure, after three plus years in the nation’s capital, he’s more than ready to get back to life in a seasonal town.
“The high pressure in summer, for whatever reason, I love working six days a week 90 hours a week, and having access to the farms and fishing,” he said.
Fortunately, he has back-up, and joining Vogel at Baron’s Cove this spring is sous chef Samantha Gregory, who Vogel first met in a Cape Resort’s kitchen in Cape May several years ago.
“It was her first job ever as a [Culinary Institute of America] extern, and she worked with us for the summer,” Vogel recalled. “She stayed with Cape Resorts, and is ready to become sous chef here.”
Vogel adds that while there are several Cape Resort properties in Cape May, on the East End, it’s just Baron’s Cove, which gives him a certain amount of freedom.
“The nice thing is, I can do what I want to do any day within the brand and take advantage of the Long Island bounty,” said Vogel. “I have a lucky streak of being in the right place — I feel lucky that people want to be here and it’s an exciting time of change.”
For more information about the Restaurant at Baron’s Cove (31 West Water Street, Sag Harbor), visit caperesorts.com/barons-cove/dining or call 631-725-2100.