Farmstead Chef: Interview with John Ivanko of Inn Serendipity

Images courtesy of John Ivanko

John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist run Inn Serendipity, an eco-friendly bed and breakfast on their farm in southwestern Wisconsin. It’s where they grow most of their own food, raise their son Liam, earn their living, educate others, write their books, and live their passions.

Ivanko and Kivirist’s passions are many: sustainable energy, integrated communities, vibrant rural life, lively conversations, and, of course, good food.

The couple’s latest book, Farmstead Chef (New Society Publishers, 2011) includes 150 recipes inspired by life on the farm, dishes they cook for their guests and their family. These are homey, personal dishes, some of which, like Latvian pirages (bacon rolls), pierogies, and sauerkraut, reach back into their Baltic and Eastern European heritage. Others are international favorites that have become staples on the American table, like sushi and spring rolls. For the most part, they are temptingly familiar and unintimidating recipes, light on technique and easy to accomplish with ingredients right out of your fridge — or farm.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Scattered among the recipes are 10 profiles of people from around the country who have inspired — or been inspired by — the principles Ivanko and Kivirist practice at Inn Serendipity.

We talked with John about their new book, their life in an eco-tourism haven, and eating well through a Midwestern winter.

Tell us the story of how Farmstead Chef came to be.

It is the culmination of years of effort here, of experimenting and relearning how to eat local, seasonal, sustainable, fresh foods, and to do it year-round. We’re always limited in resources, so we learned frugality and self-reliance, how to be more mindful and incorporate local foods into recipes over the years.

Our backgrounds are not rural. I grew up in Detroit and Lisa in the Chicago suburbs. The scope of our growing things was annual flowers you put in a pot. Our backgrounds are in marketing; we met in Chicago at an ad agency. Then we went through a really premature midlife crisis. I decided I’d better go walk about and figure out what I wanted to do with my life — and it wasn’t selling Super Nintendo entertainment systems, which is what I was doing at the time.