Multicultural Magic

At Serevan, Serge Madikians uses Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors as the jumping-off point for his popular eclectic cuisine


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About eight years ago, my husband and I were in the small, Delaware County town of Bovina, a “dry” town that bans the sale of alcoholic beverages. The owner of the B&B where we were staying casually mentioned that a new restaurant had recently opened. We weren’t expecting much, but figured it was easy and close, so we walked up the block to what turned out to be Main Street. Located on the ground floor of a small, two-story house, the restaurant had about 10 unadorned wooden tables and a solicitous owner who “gave” us a bottle of wine.

Our meal turned out to be astonishingly good. So good, in fact, that we thanked the chef, Serge Madikians — and through friends, we’ve indirectly kept up with him over the years. Madikians is now chef-owner of Serevan Restaurant in Amenia. Readers of this magazine have twice voted him the “Best Chef” — and Serevan the “Best Restaurant” — in the Hudson Valley.

» Read the Best of Hudson Valley reviews here: 2008, 2009

So — wondering whether Madikians would just be resting on his laurels — it was with more than a little curiosity that we decided to make the trip to Serevan on a Monday night, usually a fairly slow restaurant evening and all too often staffed by a kitchen clearly tired after the weekend rush. Let’s just say we were not disappointed.

scallops and potatoesPalate pleaser: Serevan’s seared diver scallops are served with fingerling potatoes, fresh greens, and Merguez sausage

Madikians is an Armenian whose family fled to Iran to escape the post-World War I massacre of Armenians living in what was then the Ottoman Empire. The family owned and operated restaurants throughout Iran. Madikians came to the United States to study history and philosophy, but after completing graduate studies in 1997 he decided to enroll at the French Culinary Institute. Following graduation, he worked in the kitchens of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Bouley, later becoming executive chef at the well-regarded New York City Moroccan restaurant Chez es Saada (which is now closed).

In 2002, Madikians moved to Bovina. There, he began to combine the flavors and ingredients of his multicultural family’s cuisine; the classical cuisines of his training; and his own developing interest in sourcing local, seasonal ingredients. His culinary evolution culminated with the opening of Serevan in 2005.

What developed is a unique and exciting cuisine that is neither Middle Eastern nor Mediterranean. Madikians’ food is simultaneously subtle and bold. In the wrong hands, multiple ingredients and seasonings can merely complicate dishes, creating hard-to-identify, often muddy, tastes. Under Madikians’ deft touch, however, everything works in harmony, with ingredients clarifying and augmenting each dish’s essential flavors.

Situated in a house built in the late 1800s, the restaurant has an attractive bar that opens into the dining room with its well-spaced tables and large fireplace. In season, pots of herbs adorn the hearth and hang over the counter separating the dining room from the small kitchen. Madikians’ identical twin, Rouben, is in charge of the front of the house; and Ian Wright, Madikians’ first sous-chef and a CIA graduate, is back in the kitchen.

For Madikians, it’s all about ingredients. “As a cook,” he says, “you can impose your will or you can make yourself available to what the ingredients suggest. I try to take what nature, with all its intricacies and nuances, offers — and work with that. It is the ingredients that reign, not the chef.”

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