Chef Chris Turgeon / Photos by Nina Duncan
At Hepworth Farms in Milton, Chris Turgeon bends over a bee-filled bed of allium blossom, a pair of scissors sticking out of his pocket. The executive chef of Kingston’s Wilde Beest is prepping the week’s menu, discussing with sous chef Russell Prickett how much sage and oregano they need to go along with the pork and hindquarters of a goat back at the restaurant. Since its June 13 debut, the Uptown eatery has been producing a shifting menu of locally sourced dishes that fits Wilde Beest’s tagline: “serious food, serious drinks, no serious people.”
Turgeon estimates that between 75 and 80 percent of the restaurant’s produce comes through Hepworth, both from the farm and the many other local producers distributed by the Hepworths. Most of Wilde Beest’s meat is sourced from Northwind Farms, in Tivoli, while the seafood comes from a connection down in Montauk, featuring species that Turgeon describes as less popular but more sustainable.
As he goes along the rows in a black T-shirt and jeans, Turgeon is molding the menu. “A lot of what gets picked isn’t pretty enough for the store,” says Turgeon. “Ugly is beautiful for us.”
This opens up the flavor palate with an expanded range of culinary options, from plants picked as buds or shoots of varying ripeness. “It allows me to dial where exactly we want to be with the menu,” he says. The result is an unpretentious menu reactive both to what Turgeon and Prickett feel like cooking, and what’s available in the moment. If a case of pork jowls or woodcock suddenly comes in, they will adjust the menu around it, deciding dishes on the fly. Turgeon contrasts this with the many fine-dining restaurants at which he’s worked, from Poughkeepsie to Austin to Chicago’s Michelin-starred 42 Grams, all of which struck him as too pretentious and rigid. At Wilde Beest, he explains, “We really cook jazz.”
In the truck on the way back to the warehouse, Turgeon enthuses about Kingston. Though he has cooked all across the country, he says, “I’ve never been received in such a fashion.” Many of those who dropped in while their small team was sanding floors and setting up decorations have come back as regular diners. People try every dish, no matter how strange the ingredients — trigger fish, sea robin, whelk (essentially “giant sea snails”); even kids enjoy it. He wants Wilde Beest to help pull attention to the area’s many other businesses and opportunities. “For what the Hudson Valley represents, the incredible bounty and unbelievable number of world-class products that come from here, we are massively underrepresented. I’d love to blow that stuff up.”
Open Wed, Thurs, & Sun, 5–9 p.m.; Fri–Sat, 5–10 p.m., 310 Wall St, 845.481.4181