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Chef Gerry Hayden on selling North Fork Table: ‘The hardest thing I have ever had to do’

Chef Gerry Hayden, owner of the North Fork Table in Southold, said putting the restaurant — a dream into which he has poured so much of his soul — on the market was a heartbreaking decision.

“It’s the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” he said.

Hayden told SoutholdLOCAL Tuesday that Saunders & Associates would be handling the sale; the asking price for the North Fork Table is $3.8 million, Hayden said.

Hayden, diagnosed with ALS in 2010, created A Love Shared, a not-for-profit organization aimed at raising awareness and funds for research.

But on Tuesday, Hayden said that chapter in his life, too, has come to a close. “I’m not going to be doing any more fundraising. I’ll need to focus on my health now,” he said.

Recently,on the North Fork, everyone from Noah’s chef Noah Schwartz in Greenport to staffers at Love Lane Kitchen, and an enthusiastic sea of friends, colleagues and supporters, took the Ice Bucket Challenge for Hayden, chef and co-owner of the North Fork Table with his wife Claudia Fleming.

The award-winning chef was faced with a grim reality when he lost the use of his hands and was no longer able to work in the kitchen; he is also confined to a wheelchair and must use a machine to breathe.

Hayden, however, refused to give in to despair. In fact, Hayden challenged his wife, as well as celebrities Pearl Jam, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, to take the challenge — and took the Ice Bucket Challenge himself.

“The Ice Bucket Challenges have been the best thing to happen to ALS awareness since Lou Gehrig’s speech,” he told SoutholdLOCAL.

In recent years, Hayden also founded A Love Shared, “a collaborative effort between North Fork Table and Inn, Long Island chefs, farmers and businesses to raise money and awareness for ALS,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

But behind the social media whirlwind of people from all walks of life laughing as they take the ice-soaked challenge, the reality of living with ALS is heartbreaking, Hayden said.

“Day to day life is very difficult,” Hayden said. “Things I can no longer do by myself include brushing my teeth, taking a shower, going to the bathroom, dressing, eating, drinking, walking or breathing.”

Asked in August how he felt about a disease that has stolen so much, Hayden is candid. “Frustrated. Sad. Angry. Helpless,” he said. “But I don’t like feeling sorry for myself.”

And, with Lou Gehrig not even a household name today, the Ice Bucket Challenge has shone a much needed spotlight on a disease he has described as “cruel”.

Currently, the ALS stated in a release, there is only one drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat ALS, and it only extends survival by two to three months. ALS is 100 percent fatal. In addition to losing control of voluntary muscle movement, people with the disease progressively lose their ability to eat, speak, walk, and, eventually, breathe.

Meanwhile, despite the ravages of ALS, Hayden has remained a beacon of hope, infused with the indomitable spirit that has made him a hero among the scores who’ve stepped up to take the Ice Bucket Challenge in his name.

Back in January, Hayden had a dream that he believes was a precursor to the amazing outpouring of support for ALS he’s witnessed over the past weeks.

“I had a dream last night about a friend,” he wrote on Facebook. “I was walking through a grand park; all the streets were luminous. As I came into the most beautiful part of the park the lights started to dim, with every step I took the beauty was taken away from me a the lights went lower and the park became black. In a flash before my eyes a wire had broken away from a light and started spitting sparks and flashes of light. I was still stopped by the darkness that surrounded me, helpless but struggling to get close to this light to help me find my way. The wild wire is a metaphor. It represents the life that is still within me and the life that I so enjoy with this world.”