Wilde Beest Executive Chef Chris Turgeon Finds His Own Voice in Kingston
Kingston’s Stockade District. An isolated, eight-block area of the city where you can position yourself in one place, look around, and feel the history. Limestone structures from the 18th century still stand here, and on a quiet morning you can likely hear the whispers of the spirits of old Dutch settlers seeking shelter from attack, or the first New Yorkers planning what would eventually become our Empire State. Flash forward to the present: New life buzzes about the streets. The air is full of conversations, ideas, big plans… and this diverse energy of tradition and endeavor has attracted artists, chefs, musicians, and designers alike. Talented young people with aspirations to be both a part of this community and a force for progress, as the Hudson Valley continues to grow and thrive.
Chris Turgeon, Executive Chef, and co-founder of Wilde Beest is a shining example of this endeavor. Having big shoes to fill after acquiring the space formerly occupied by the legendary Elephant, he and the team behind Wilde Beest (made up of Turgeon, Sous Chef Russell Prickett, Eric Donaldson, Oshan Jarow and Greg Ryan) set out to bring fine dining to the local community while leaving pretense behind. A mission that is easier said than done.
“Our tagline starting the restaurant was ‘Serious food, serious drinks, no serious people.’ So, it was this idea that you could come in flip flops and have eight courses.”
The concept is tangible upon entry, with café style seating lining the outer walls, taxidermy pheasants frozen in flight, and whimsical art murals depicting wild animals in forest scenes, it feels more like entering into a children’s picture book than a high-end dining establishment, which it still indeed is. However, nothing about walking into Wilde Beest is intimidating. The team is young, friendly, clearly enjoying what they do. Rock n roll is spinning on the record player, and stacks of carefully curated vinyl albums which are played in full LP to add to the dining experience, to start a conversation, to tap a memory or feeling, and to just have fun.
Fun. Maybe not the first thing you might associate with the world of fine dining.
And Turgeon certainly knows fine dining. Having previously been the executive sous chef at 42 Grams, a Michelin Starred restaurant in Chicago, Wilde Beest is his first chance to showcase all that he’s learned on his culinary journey.
“I’m a very restless mind, and I’ve always enjoyed the pursuit of knowledge,” shares Turgeon. “I was starting to get to the point where the next level of my own understanding was going to necessitate speaking with my own voice and finding my own dialogue of food in my own cuisine.”
When finding one’s own voice, especially in the world of food, there is a unique dichotomy that exists in the relationship between the chef and the guest, one that spans artistry and enjoyment, and this relationship is not lost on Turgeon. “When we started this whole thing, there was a big conversation about ‘Do we really come here to try and serve the community, or are we going to come here and try to satisfy our own artistic interests?’ Obviously, there is still a balance to be struck there, but the end decision was to do the food that we really wanted to do.” “We try to bring personality to the plate, and some style to what we’re doing, but the thrust behind that is about satisfying the people who walk through the door.”
The menu itself is as enchanting as the artwork on the walls, and reading through the small plate and large plate options, you already know you’re going to be in for a unique experience. The dishes and ingredients read like poetry to hungry eyes, and my mouth began watering before I could even consider deciding on any one dish.
“We’re constantly in search of that ‘Oh s***’ moment,” Turgeon muses. “Something that you put your finger in that you just can’t stop eating.”
Something tells me I’m about to be in for a moment of my own. Our first dish was called The Belly, The Whole Belly, and Nothing but The Belly. The plating was a minimalist, masterful work of art, comprised of grilled swordfish belly, which had a beautiful smoky aroma accented with parsley cream and shaved patty pan, and fermented pine nuts. The flavor profile was absolutely incredible and woke our palettes up for what was still to come.
Up next, a dish called From the Bottom of the Sea. A seared scallop dish unlike any I have experienced before, it included an assortment of accouterments such as fried cauliflower, carbonated grapes, capers, and sage. A playfully complex and savory dish, with a little bit of heat that sticks around, reminding you of just how incredible that last bite was.
As our courses came, they were all quite stunning to look at, arousing with aroma, intricate with flavor, and beautifully balanced. “I’m a flavorist, first and foremost,” explains Turgeon. “To me, dining is hedonism, it’s about pleasure, it’s about the joy of being at the table and that wonderful, tingly feeling that you have when you eat something awesome.”
This is precisely how we were feeling.
With a perfect setting for playful conversation, the reminiscence of an old favorite song, or distant memory of a picture book you had as a child… the effervescing anticipation of experiencing a new flavor, an ingredient you can’t pronounce, or a local brew you’ve just been dying to try… Wilde Beest brings it home.
So, if you’re checking in on Hudson Valley Happenings looking for an exquisite, high level culinary experience with farm to table fare, a curated music menu, a charming environment where fun supersedes stuffiness, then book a table at Wilde Beest in Kingston. You won’t leave disappointed.
Wilde Beest 310 Wall Street Kingston, NY 12401