An Armenian born in Tehran, Iran who has worked and studied both in Los Angeles and New York City, Serge Madikians has a palate that is both intense and subtle. But Madikians, chef and owner of Serevan which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, now finds inspiration in his current surroundings — the farms and farmers of the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires.
I came to the U.S. in 1978 with my brother to avoid the Iranian Revolution. While living in California, I was an unhappy engineering student, and eventually switched my studies to history and philosophy. After graduating, I worked for an urban city planner in Los Angeles, and realized I would like to go into a masters program. I moved to New York when the New School offered me a full scholarship to study public policy and economics.
Until my mid-30s, I was a frustrated soul because the artistic part of me wasn’t satisfied; I had a hunger for art but no outlet. The one constant was that I always cooked for myself. In 1997 I had the opportunity to attend the French Culinary Institute at the International Culinary Center
in SoHo. I figured I had nothing to lose; I’d either change my career or I’d be able to throw better dinner parties. Two weeks into the program, while catering an event, I went to reach for a plate and everything sort of stopped. I knew that this was it, this is what I’d been craving, and I didn’t look back.
Luckily, Jean-Georges Vongerichten
in Trump Tower was looking for externs, and that became my entry into 4-star restaurants. It was professional cooking at its highest level, and the discipline, dedication and attention to detail were all incredibly impressive.
Serge Madikians with John-Paul Sliva of Bard College Farm.
This culminated into working with David Bouley
, which reaffirmed my purpose and my style of cooking. Cooking is my means of expression. I listen to piano music and one of my favorite composers is Chopin. I enjoy hearing interpretations of his music by different musicians. The interpretation is also the most challenging, rewarding and self-affirming part of cooking.
I moved to this area full time in 2012. The Hudson Valley and the Berkshires, the friends I’ve made, the community I’ve been a part of, and my career have given me a sense of definition.
I’ve become more aware and more present when I cook because I’m inspired by my environment. I’m surrounded by farmland and farmers. Through Chris Regan of Sky Farm
, I’ve learned so much about the intricacies of growing and its relationship with Mother Nature. Through John-Paul Sliva of Bard College Farm
, I’ve learned about bees and mushrooms, tomatoes and onions, and about how weather effects their flavor. Going to farms and pulling vegetables right from the ground has given me a much deeper understanding of my craft.
I’ve also become a pilot, and the camaraderie with other pilots has made it a fun endeavor. On days the restaurant is closed, I fly to Cape Cod, Provincetown and Martha’s Vineyard to pick up fresh seafood. I volunteer at schools and colleges in the area, where I share my philosophy and understanding of my relationship to food. On my weekly radio show, Flavor Matters
on Robin Hood Radio, I interview farmers and others in the food and agricultural world.
Overall, I’m lucky to live in an inspiring environment congregated by inspiring people.
Read RI's article about Serevan here.