The Rural We: Serge Madikians
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.