Serge Madikians Cooks from the Soul at Serevan in Amenia
Serge Madikians treats running a restaurant as if it were a cross between a grand opera and an extreme sport. As the chef/owner of six-year-old Serevan in Amenia, NY, he does everything from taking reservations and driving to New York City to buy fresh fish to crisscrossing the Hudson Valley to pick up crates of fresh fruits and vegetables from Montgomery Place Orchards, Sol Flower Farm and Migliorelli Farm. In the evenings, he works the line in his open kitchen and somehow finds time to make the rounds in the dining room, too. “I wanted an interesting job and an interesting job is an all-consuming one,” he says. And Serevan is certainly an interesting restaurant.
Now that the garden behind his restaurant is in bloom, Madikians is feeling especially inspired to create new dishes that are invariably laced with fresh herbs that remind him of his childhood as an Armenian living in cosmopolitan Tehran, before the revolution. “See this Blue African Basil? It has such a distinct flavor. I found it at Paley’s a few years ago and I plant it every year. I am going to use it in the cod dish tonight,” he says like a kid in a candy store. He pulls a pink flower off a chive plant by Serevan’s front dining patio (photo) and lets it crumble in his palm like confetti. “I will toss these in a salad,” he says. “You get this wonderful, surprising burst of flavor.” He continues surveying the garden that wraps around his restaurant, a 19th century farmhouse, which is located a few minutes from the Wassaic train station. “We have fiddleheads, fennel and mint. Soon, I will plant green beans, tomatoes from Silamar Farm, and cucumbers in the back garden.”
It’s Madikians’ independent spirit that’s made Serevan renown for original, deeply flavored food such as falafel crusted grouper served over organic kale, with pickled red cabbage and lemon-Tahini sauce and organic salmon (left) with white asparagus, morels and chanterelles with sherry broth. “The best part of having a country restaurant is that you don’t have to follow trends,” he says. “I can dance to my own music.” Madikians left Iran after the revolution and moved to California, where he went to college. He worked in Los Angeles before moving to New York in 1992 to get a master’s degree in public policy at the New School. He was working for the City of New York in the Giuliani administration when he enrolled in night classes at the French Culinary Institute. while working at Jean Georges four nights a week and keeping his day job. He went to work for David Bouley. “I loved working for David Bouley whom I consider my mentor,” he says . Eventually, he decided that he did not want to live the hyper-competitive New York life. At a friend’s suggestion, he moved to Bovina in the Catskills and got a job in a small restaurant that prided itself on using organic produce and local meat. “It opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. I befriended a shepherd and raised a lamb to slaughter. I ate a tomato ripe from the vine for the first time since my childhood.”
Free to cook as he pleased after his French training and working for other chefs, he felt “emancipated artistically” in the Catskills. But he also felt isolated, and started searching for a rural restaurant with access to farms but more convenient to the city. “I found Amenia and this house by accident,” he says. He purposefully kept the restaurant feeling like a farm house and the kitchen open so that he could be in dialogue with his customers. “On most nights, I know 80 percent of the people in the dining room, which is a very good feeling,” he says. Madikians’ loyal fans helped make him Hudson Valley Magazine‘s Best Chef in the Hudson Valley in 2008 and 2009. And this year, Serevan was a seminfinalist for a James Beard Award.
Serevan’s gemütlichkeit gestalt is an expression of Madikians’ complex nature. Although it has white tablecloths and serious food, Serevan is unpretentious and most nights the dining room rings with laughter, especially at the bar. “I feel like I have created an environment where the food I wanted to cook would belong,” says Madikians. He deeply appreciates that customers respond to food that expresses the experiences and enthusiasms of his life. “The fact that I can say a dish with saffron, dried limes and pistachios is Iranian-inspired means so much to me,” he says. “I love living here, but I will always be an Armenian from Tehran.”
6 Autumn Lane on Route 44 (West of Route 22), Amenia, NY; 845. 373.9800
Thursday - Monday 5 - 10 p.m.