Chef Stephen Naegle
Spirits Food and Friends
Stephen Naegle grew up in Colombia, South America, and Mexico City, Mexico. His large Hispanic family and heritage nurtured his love for food—with 12 older female cousins who all cooked. He woke to the smell of harepas every morning and the sounds of the kitchen. He moved to Mexico City where he began working in resort kitchens at a very young age. This is where he fell in love with the restaurant environment. He started as a steward—lower in rank than a dishwasher—who had to wash things all day and all night.
He then moved to Miami and worked at the historic Fountainbleu Hotel under Chef Pratt. Naegle worked in kitchens to fund his college at Florida State University where he majored in international business. Naegle then worked at B. Merrell’s in Tallahassee, Florida, and quickly became assistant general manager. He began working for Bonefish Grill, an independently-owned restaurant at the time with only three locations. He grew with the company and opened up 62 locations for Bonefish across the country, where he then became regional culinary director.
While opening a Bonefish Grill location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he fell in love with his Alexandria-native wife and planted his roots there. He began working for Chef Don Bergeron and helped to grow Don’s catering business. He expanded his knowledge of Cajun/Louisiana cuisine with Bergeron, who studied under Chef John Folse and worked as his executive chef. A mutual friendship brought Spirits owner Lee Gwinn and Naegle together. Their common vision of what the restaurant could be from a culinary standpoint brought Stephen into Spirits as the new chef.
“My goal in my career is to simply be a good person who creates good food,” Naegle said. “I love simple, well-rounded dishes that are beautifully prepared. My heritage is an important part of my cooking inspiration, and I pull from that history frequently. I also wish to pass down the things that were shared with me in the kitchen as a young, aspiring chef.”
He recently participated in the Louisiana Birmingham Takeover, where he represented central Louisiana in bringing local flavor to Alabama.