Prior to becoming head chef at Baron’s Cove, Nick Vogel had immersed himself in nearly every aspect of the restaurant industry, beginning at his family’s Philadelphia bar. From dangling his feet over a barstool as a child and eating chicken wings while chatting with chefs, to bussing tables and later working as a line cook, the restaurant industry was his entire life.
At the age of 18, Nick Vogel decided to take a break from the business, and enrolled at Coastal Carolina University to pursue a degree in Finance. After graduating and working in finance for a while, Vogel realized that the food industry was his true calling, and returned to it, quitting his job and becoming a line cook and farmhand in Cape May, New Jersey. This job, on a property owned by Cape Resorts, is where the journey that eventually led him to Baron’s Cove (owned by the same company) began. Following his time in Cape May, Vogel moved to Washington D.C. where he served as a chef in various capacities in several different restaurants and received accolades for his work.
Earlier this year, Nick Vogel accepted the position at Baron’s Cove in The Hamptons where he now focuses on serving the freshest food, showcasing nature’s bounty to the fullest. Total Food Service caught up with him to get his take on the current landscape and where we go from here.
What impact has the last four months had on what you’re doing this summer?
Luckily, we have a lot of outdoor space, and we can devote it entirely to our customers. We can give them the space they need to breathe easily, while still maintaining a high enough turnover rate to run a healthy business.
We also have to look at CDC guidelines and follow them strictly, which is another very important aspect this summer. Every day chefs are already thinking about food safety, proper storage, receiving of food, linens, and dealing with labor and POS systems. These are procedures we follow and carry out constantly, so integrating these new guidelines into what we already do is something we should be prepared for as chefs, and something we should be prepared to keep doing for the foreseeable future.
The way I see it, it’s something you can even use to your advantage, it makes you better at your job if you’re the person who’s on top of all these additional details. For example, I’ve never worked in a cleaner kitchen. Many chefs are used to working in disorganized kitchens, so the increased oversight on both the state and federal level helps clarify expectations and make them uniform. At the end of the day, all chefs have a job to do and that job is way easier when expectations are clear.
Also, if it weren’t for the changes brought on by Covid, I might never have had the opportunity in my career to take over a restaurant, or a hotel for that matter, and start from scratch. I was the only person in the back office and kitchen for 30 days, mopping the floor and developing and testing recipes. I had an entire month to rewrite breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, which never would have been possible under normal circumstances. Basically, every restaurant in the country experienced a closing and reopening, which if utilized properly can have a very positive impact.
Were you ready when Governor Cuomo gave the green light to open?
There’s never a time like the present, so whether I was ready or not isn’t even relevant. My company didn’t micromanage me, instead they gave me the tools I needed to operate 21 meals a week with a focus on revitalizing a dinner service.
I think the key to making the best of this situation is to continue doing what we’re good at, and to not overthink it to the point of detriment. We all miss the simple things, a busy dinner service, re-firing a steak for a customer at table 50 or a broken ticket machine. To me, the goal was to put people back to work. This is not only vital for operational needs, but for people’s livelihoods and morale. People need paychecks and people need to eat, so when you can satisfy both of those requirements, success comes naturally.
Did you bring in distributors such as Baldor, Dairyland, or J. Kings, and show them what you wanted to do with the menu?
I use some distributors, but I’m most interested in partnering with local farmers and fishermen. I was amazed by the farming when I moved to Long Island two months ago, it’s incredible. Today’s my off day and I was at a farm for hours this morning, picking vegetables in the field with my girlfriend and bringing back all sorts of great ingredients. The reason I’m here is to get back to the roots, after all. The big distributors are all great businesses and they’ll always play their part. However, in an area like this where I can have a focused dinner service, showcasing nature’s bounty is what I’m all about.
Would you like to brand around yourself? Your own television show, or cookbooks, for example.
If that comes along with the territory, so be it, but my priority right now is expediting and plating every single one of the dishes that leaves my kitchen between the hours of 5pm to 11:30 pm, every night. I’m early on in my career, and I don’t think I deserve television or a brand yet. I’m focused on being happy and consistent with the food that I’m putting out and finding my voice on the plate. Creating a brand pales in comparison to creating my own identity as a chef right now.
To learn more Chef Nick Vogel and Baron’s Cove, visit their website.