When Chef Stephen Serkes opened his restaurant in Goshen on May 15, 1991, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge and a desire to have a farm-to-table eatery. He wanted to make fresh, healthy meals for his customers.
With long hours and a lot of hard work, his vision took shape. Now after 30 years of preparing those farm-fresh meals, Catherine’s Restaurant at 153 West Main St. can certainly claim success.
It was a stroke of good luck for those who live locally that Serkes chose Goshen for his career. He is one of 12 siblings who grew up in Farmingdale, Long Island, and it was one of his brothers who got him up here.
“I heard about this spot from my brother, and I thought I would try it,” said Serkes. “What we now call ‘farm-to-table’ was called ‘market cuisine’ 30 years ago.” Whatever name it goes by, though, you can’t beat the availability of produce up here.”
And it was that plentiful fresh food in the Hudson Valley that directed the focus of his menu. “It still does,” he said.
A German deli in Levittown
Serkes’ interest in food preparation began while he was in high school working as a busboy in various kitchens, especially at a German deli in Levittown, Long Island. Two German women there prepared everything from scratch. As Serkes worked alongside them, he learned more than just German cooking. He learned kitchen management as well.
“Everything clean and in its place,” he said.
His formal training was at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Part of his curriculum included an externship at the Garden City Hotel in Long Island. While there he gained experience in many areas of food prep, such as butcher, soup, stock, pastry and banquet hosting.
And it was there that Serkes worked with highly respected Chef Patrick Pinon, whose own background included work at the famous Sardi’s and Maxim’s restaurants.
“Chef Pinon was my first mentor,” Serkes said. “He instilled a lot in me. School gives the foundation, but it’s up to you to build on that. I got lucky and worked with some talented chefs.”
After graduation in 1984, he worked in New York City at a hotel that was part of the Intercontinental Hotel chain. He started as a line cook and gradually worked up to executive sous chef, the kitchen’s Number Two position. He gained further experience working in Paris and at the Ritz Carlton in Montreal.
“It was great experience working in different cultures to learn how they used foods, like breads and cheeses,” said Serkes.
A house, a wife and partner
Then, to the great, good fortune to local residents, he settled in Goshen. And if there was ever any doubt that he would stay, he met a local girl, Jennifer Clark.
Although he and Jennifer met through a mutual friend, Serkes already knew her mother, Linda Clark, a realtor with Griffith Olivero.
“I worked with Linda to buy a house,” said Serkes. “She not only sold me a house, but a wife, too!”
They married on Aug. 21, 1998, at the First Presbyterian Church in Goshen. Serkes, who is noted for the amount of catering he does, said, “I didn’t cater that reception!”
Jennifer, who graduated from Clemson College in South Carolina with a business management degree, has been at Steve’s side working at the restaurant since their marriage.
“It all fell into place,” she said. “I guess it was meant to be.”
The Serkes have three children: Morgan, 22, Stephen, 20 and Danny, 17, who all grew up as a part of the business, working in different capacities. This has been especially true during the pandemic.
“It’s basically been the five of us doing all the work for take-out,” said Jennifer, who said that the children like to cook, but none of them has expressed an interest in taking over the business.
She has hope, though. “They’re still young.”
Staying true to his original goal, Serkes goes weekly to local farms, primarily S & SO Produce Farms in Goshen and Roe’s Orchard in Chester, to pick up fresh vegetables and fruits.
He plans his menu based on availability. For example, a customer favorite is his Bowtie Pasta, which is loaded with fresh vegetables like broccoli, wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes along with both chicken and shrimp. Another favorite is Murray’s Chicken, which starts with an all-natural, no-hormone chicken raised at Murray’s in South Fallsburg. It’s been on the menu since Catherine’s opened.
While the pandemic is still a factor, Catherine’s is open a few nights a week for dinner but is focusing on the catering side of the business. “We can’t do both full time, but hopefully things will get back to normal,” said Serkes.
As for his rare moments of free time, Serkes is looking forward to being a spectator at his children’s sporting events this fall. Morgan is doing graduate work at Hofstra University and running cross-country and track; Stephen is playing football at Hartwick College; and Danny is running cross-country and track at Goshen High School.
‘I made a good choice’
But to keep himself fit, Serkes works out at a gym, goes biking and enjoys his favorite activity – kayaking with his wife.
“Kayaking is so peaceful,” said Jennifer. “It’s a good work-out and we’re getting fresh air and sun – and there’s no phone!”
Reflecting on their long, successful career, the couple gives a lot of credit to their customers.
“It’s incredible!” said Jennifer. “The customers, their loyalty, the community supporting us. It’s all wonderful.”
Said her husband, Chef Stephen, “I know I absolutely made a good choice in coming here – it’s a very strong community.”