Rosemary. Turkey. Gravy. Mashed Potatoes. Nothing screams the holidays more than the decadent scent of robust flavors lingering throughout a warm home. The aroma itself is enough to make your mouth water, but without presentation and exceptional taste, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving. One man taking his Fall menu to a new level is 38-year-old Chef Sevan Abdessian, owner and executive chef of Recess in Glendale, CA. With pumpkin gnocchi, jambon fromage (brie, pear chutney, and black forest ham on ciabatta bread), and braised short ribs, November never sounded so yummy!
MiLLENNiAL recently met up with Chef Sevan at his restaurant to better understand his operation. Everything about this quaint eatery intensified the meaning of seasonal delights. From the elegant décor to the extensive wine cellar, Recess was in full holiday swing. Sevan tells us the highlight of his Thanksgiving service is his turkey preparation. For 24 hours he brines 40 turkeys in large freshly bought trash cans to develop a rich marinade. When it is time to cook, he untraditionally flips the turkeys upside down to allow for a natural basting process. All the juices flow into the breast of the turkey (classically the driest part of the bird) creating a tender and more savory bite.
Chef Sevan’s Culinary Journey
With as much creativity as Sevan naturally brings to the table, he had no intention of developing a passion for food. “I don’t think anyone decides to be a chef. It sort of just chose me,” he tells us. But cooking was in his blood. Both of his parents, who had emigrated from Armenia, were in the catering business. As the kid stuck prepping for extensive party orders, Sevan wanted nothing to do with the “family business”. Instead, he dreamed of becoming an architect, but quickly realized that with the amount of math required, he should plug his love for design into something he knew well…cooking.
When he was 19 years old, he decided to attend culinary school in San Francisco, where he studied under some of the most globally renowned chefs. He was even asked to help open a few of their restaurants. But his culinary expertise and talent really blossomed when he studied aboard in Italy.
Italian versus French Cuisine
Although classically trained with French technique, Sevan learned a new style of cooking while on the small Italian island of Capri. He spent hours prepping for a dinner service that only fed 35 to 40 people per night, but as he says, “the product was immaculate.”
He explains Italian cooking is a different ball game because everything is fresh, “Even the cheese we made from scratch. Mozzeralla, ricotta, everything was from scratch.” Looking at the differences between the two styles, Sevan says, “France is a little more refined [whereas] Italy has a little more gusto.”
Private Celebrity Chef
Upon his return to the States, Sevan was met with the opportunity to become a private chef. He landed a job with Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison and was Sandler’s personal chef on three films. But this position stifled Sevan’s creativity as Sandler was on an Atkins diet and had finite interests in food combinations.
As Sevan moved onto other celebrities, his ability to reach new gourmet levels ensued. He regularly cooked for John Travolta, Kirsty Alley, Simon Cowell and Rod Stewart before being offered the chance to design and oversee commercial kitchens.
From Private to Executive Chef
Now running his own restaurant, Sevan embodies his Italian experiences by incorporating fresh ingredients from his own garden into almost every dish. Adding to the ambiance of his outdoor dining patio, fresh herbs and vegetables are placed in pots throughout the environment.
He describes his personal style as “Californian cuisine with Mediterranean influence.” Uniquely, Sevan dresses every plate to resemble his daughters who are only 3 and 6 years old. “I always try to make plates that look like them which is beautiful, petite, and fascinating to look at.”
His tips for home cooks is to not “over speculate” the dish. “Use simple ingredients that go well together and then plate it nicely. You’d be surprised what a nice $20 white plate can do,” he says. This plays into the “art of food” and how popular shows like Master Chef have become among those who want to elevate their everyday meals. Sevan adds, “Food can be art to look at but it still needs to make sense and be functional…the key is to not leave one bite on the plate.”
The go-to item on his menu is his famous Ahi Tuna Salad which has been made available year-round. This simple yet sophisticated salad reflects the qualities and characteristics Chef Sevan brings to his dishes. He stresses the importance of fresh flavors that compliment each other. The salad combines Sonoma greens, mango, and orange tossed in ponzu then topped with seared Ahi. The sweet accents of the mango and orange counter the progressive tang of ponzu but balances with the richness of the Ahi tuna – a winning combination that has customers craving more.
While the Ahi Tuna Salad may be his signature dish, Sevan insists, “The best thing I ever made were my children.” His passion for cooking doesn’t even scratch the surface for the amount of joy he receives from being a father. He says his daughers keep him “grounded, level-headed, sane, and fun.”
Coming Full Circle
While California cuisine doesn’t quite speak to the hearty nature of a Thanksgiving Day meal, Sevan believes Thanksgiving is unique to the individual. His way of celebrating is to infuse his Middle Eastern roots into the homey essence of the American holiday. The only dish that remains traditional is the turkey. Everything else is authentic to his heritage including humus, baba ganoush, and Persian rice.
Recognizing that the most important element of the festivities is not the food, but the meaning of the holiday itself, Sevan proudly says he is most thankful for his children and their health.
To learn more about Chef Sevan or how to boost the flavor of your own meals, visit RecessEatery.com.