Hailing from across the pond, Madison Cowan was introduced to the East End by legendary Sag Harbor resident and playwright Lanford Wilson. As the pair forged a friendship, the stage was set for Cowan’s culinary artistry, inspired by the waterside town’s fresh seafood and idyllic scenery. With his roots today firmly planted in New York, Cowan revisits the East End, and this summer in Southampton, he’s raising awareness at the kickoff event for the Alzheimer’s Association30th Anniversary Rita Hayworth Gala.
How did you originally come out East? MADISON COWAN: In 1997, I was part of the Circle in the Square Theatre company, and Lanford Wilson invited me to his home in Sag Harbor. I continue making trips out East; I’ll spend all day on the beach, then prepare freshly caught seafood and local produce.
Have you visited anywhere comparable to the Hamptons?
MC: There’s a spot in the St. James region of Barbados on the beach called The Ship’s Inn that I dig very much. Sitting out on the porch at night listening to live music, sipping coconut rum on the rocks, and tucking into the lightest, crispiest dolphin fish [mahi mahi] on the planet.
If not in the Hamptons, where would you be?
MC: Red Hook in upstate New York, in a cottage on the lake with family, friends, and the dog.
You are involved in numerous charities. What inspired you to participate in the Annual Gala Kick-Off for the New York Rita Hayworth Gala?
MC: As an advocate with family members who have suffered from Alzheimer’s, I’m driven to do whatever I can personally and professionally by lending efforts to support finding a complete cure.
You’ve been featured on many TV shows—which is your favorite? MC: As it was my first time on US television, Chopped is by far my favorite. I very much enjoyed Iron Chef America as well. I’ve been lucky and blessed.
What was your motive behind competing on TV? MC: When chosen, I decided to use it as an opportunity to show my daughter [that] it’s important to be yourself, and try your best no matter where you are. And maybe subconsciously that one doesn’t have to be a knucklehead or a wanker to be entertaining.
Do you recommend culinary school or on-the-job training?
MC: Definitely hands-on. I left cookery school after a total of two weeks.
If you weren’t a chef, what career path would you choose?
MC: As a child I thought I would be an architect, but I wasn’t very keen on math. I’ve had a brief career in law enforcement that gave way to boredom. I’m not sure really. It’s possible I wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for cooking.
What are your favorite local ingredients? MC: Fresh summer corn, mangoes, berries, peaches, plums, limes, tomatoes, herbs, and whatever seafood I catch in the morning.
What's your favorite summer wine?
MC: At the moment, a lovely Spätburgunder rosé brut. One of the simpler joys in life.
Favorite East End market? MC: Schiavoni’s Market in Sag Harbor carries everything. If you can’t find it there, it’s not on the East End.
Who inspired you to cook?
MC: My mom. Period. She taught me to cook from a very small child and still inspires me to this very day.
If you could cook with anyone in the culinary world, who would it be?
MC: It would be cool to be in the kitchen with my mom, Graham Kerr, Keith Floyd, and Patrick Clack. We’d do some serious burning!
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and what would you serve?
MC: It’d have be a party that’s for certain! My guests would be James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Bruce Lee, Muhammed Ali, Billie Holiday, Serge Gainsbourg, Malcolm X, Boris Karloff, Jean Michel Basquiat, Che Guevara, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Paul Williams (of The Temptations), Phil Jackson, Simon Majumdar, my family, and the Obamas. I’d serve truffle-Parmesan popcorn and Champagne, Ethiopian food while sitting on pillows, and homemade, warm peach cobbler for pudding.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
MC: A great dad, husband, friend and cook who made mistakes but always did his best.
Green Potato Salad (serves 6)
Red potatoes, scrubbed and roughly cut into one-inch pieces
2 handfuls arugula
1 handful fresh coriander
1 bunch chives; extra for garnish
1 handful pistachios; extra for garnish
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ lemon, juiced
3 soft-boiled eggs, optional
Boil potatoes until tender, about five minutes. Drain into colander, rinse with cold water. Place colander in a large bowl; refrigerate. Pulse the next seven ingredients in a food processor or blender until everything blends and is coarse. Add more oil if needed; season to taste. Place potatoes in the bowl, add pesto. Mix well. Chill at least 30 minutes. Soft-boil the eggs for two-and-a-half minutes, then submerge in cold water to cool. Peel and slice into wedges or lightly mash with a fork. Garnish salad with eggs, chopped chives, and pistachios. Drizzle with a little oil and black pepper. Alternatively, serve salad warm.