Gerard Hayden, whose stellar cooking earned accolades for The North Fork Table & Inn in Southold and who for the last four years had braved Lou Gehrig's disease, died Wednesday of ALS at his home in Southold. He was 50.
Hayden was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurological disease, in 2011. He waged a public battle against it, raising awareness as well as funds with the help of other notable New York and Long Island chefs.
Hayden's influence on the culinary culture of Long Island was considerable. Not only did he bring the North Fork national attention -- he was a three-time finalist in the James Beard Foundation Awards for best chef in the Northeast -- but his vision of a farm-to-table restaurant inspired chefs all over Nassau and Suffolk. His restaurant was one of a very few to earn four stars from Newsday.
Hayden was a Long Island native, raised in Setauket. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park before embarking on a culinary career that spanned both coasts. He was a veteran of some of New York City's best kitchens, among them the River Cafe, Tribeca Grill (where he met his wife, pastry chef Claudia Fleming) and Aureole, as well as Long Island's East Hampton Point.
North Fork Table & Inn opened in 2006, a collaboration between Hayden, Fleming, and hospitality veterans Mary and Mike Mraz.
Guy Reuge, chef-owner of Mirabelle in St. James (and the only other Long Island chef to be a finalist for a James Beard award) called Hayden "a great chef, a great colleague and a great friend. He and Claudia brought the sophistication of New York City to Long Island."
But, said Reuge, they were not interested in opening a Manhattan-style restaurant. "It really was all about farm-to-table. They put the restaurant right in the middle of the farms. Gerry embraced that farming community and really put local produce on a pedestal."
In 2006, Hayden told Newsday, "I was inspired to come here and cook, knowing I could procure the best produce, the best fish." His very first menus featured goat cheese from Catapano Dairy Farm in Peconic, beets and lettuces from the late KK Haspel's The Farm in Southold and black sea bass from the local fishermen who sold their wares to Southold Fish Market.
These were suppliers who predated Hayden on the North Fork. Many more arrived in his wake, as the area became a magnet for farm-to-table restaurateurs and the agri-tourists who patronized them. Browder's Birds and 8 Hands of Cutchogue, Invincible Summer of Southold and MarGene of Mattituck are just four of the new farms that found a home on Hayden's menus and, since 2013, a spot at the farmers market that took place on Friday mornings in the restaurant's parking lot. When Russell McCall of McCall Wines began raising Charolais cattle alongside his Cutchogue vineyards, Hayden became the first chef on Long Island to serve local beef.
Since Hayden was diagnosed with ALS, he remained a force in his restaurant's kitchen. "He was such a fighter," Reuge said. "Even from his wheelchair he continued to dictate his vision of his food to his cooks. In his head, he could mix the ingredients and feel how they tasted."
A year ago, Hayden announced that the four partners had decided to sell the restaurant. It was "the hardest thing we had to do," he told Newsday. "We all decided that we didn't want to keep going without all of us."
Hayden is survived by his wife and six siblings: Gary Hayden of Setauket, Richard Hayden of Setauket, Diane Morrow of Rocky Point, Barbara Kelly of Farmingville, Christopher Hayden of Santa Cruz, California and Mark Hayden of Albuquerque, New Mexico. No funeral is planned but there will be a memorial service on a date to be announced.