Capital Region Living Magazine

Capital Region People to Watch - March 2013

By Vikki Moran & Cherie Haughney

Mark Lawson
By Vikki Moran

The mere mention of Mark Lawson’s name in the local antique community can start a conversation about evaluations and professionalism in the marketplace and Lawson is an expert at both.

Soft-spoken and extremely knowledgeable, Lawson loves where life has taken him. He has embraced the changes in the antiquity industry and rolls with them to keep his business vibrant after many years.

Where Lawson is now is a far cry from where he started. Much to his parents’ dismay, he left RPI where he was working on his PHD in Materials Engineering for a short-term leave, but never returned. Unmarried and carefree like most at that age, he followed his weekend passion of collecting, which led to his first antique business - Mark Lawson Antiques.

The business was thriving and money was being made by Lawson and many others until a little four letter word became main stream…eBay. 

Changing gears: Life after eBay
“When eBay started, many antique stores went out,” he said.  His lovely shop, that many of us still remember on Caroline Street in Saratoga Springs saw a 50 percent drop in sales; he needed to change gears, but thankfully not careers.

He loved and still loves downtown Saratoga, but the store front no longer made sense, so he closed it and started the evaluation business that he has today.

The climate for collectable and antique mania was catching on with the popularity of the PBS  show, “Antiques Roadhouse” and subsuqent cable spin-offs like “American Pickers”, “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars”.

Lawson, a sponsor of the local WMHT airings, said he has gained much from the ground-breaking production and points out that the world has changed along with the marketplace for collectibles, art and precious metals.  He explained that it is different and even a bit sad at times.  It has, in his opinion, become a marketplace driven by economic necessity.

 “There is a cultural shift away from history and family heritage,” he said. “People are selling family heirlooms often to settle debts and pay for funerals in some cases.  Family estates are the marketplace for items now. The estate contents of loved ones are evaluated, then sold and this is what is driving the current marketplace.”

Funding the chills and thrills: Touching history
With a love of history and a desire to see each item go into the right set of hands, Lawson still gets a thrill from seeing historic items.  The value may not always be there, but that doesn’t matter. The excitement he feels from the recognition of the item’s touch and point in history is icing on the professional cake for Lawson.

One such instance began many years ago when Admiral Perry was given an honor from a local volunteer fire department.  Admiral Perry reciprocated with ivory tusks from a Walrus associated with his explorations to the volunteer fire department.  Enter Mark Lawson for an evaluation years later. Holding that item in his hands and knowing its’ connection to Admiral Perry delights him. It is what he treasures most from his business.

Lawson loves “exceptional” pieces (which are in the eye of the beholder). Yes, he needs to sell with a profit, but the pieces that he is drawn to continue to be the pieces that evokes something in us.

“Art either excites you or not; it could be the form, the craftsmanship or the artist or maker. It will not tie you down to any period or genre. You can find many things, but it is the quality that lives on.”

I also got the distinct impression that Lawson loves the ever-changing scene that he walks into each day; the new and unique treasure hunts and evaluations are certainly a rush for him, as much as the investigations and arrangements of sales. 

Grounded to Capital Region: Family
While Lawson is called far and wide for his expertise, make no mistake, this man whom we have grown to love seeing on television talking about evaluations, gold and silver, is a man firmly planted in the Capital Region.  He is “grounded” by his family; dinners and weekends with his wife Annette and three children. They are his foundation.

I invited Lawson to my home to watch him work. Ironically, I am not a person with antiques, only family heirlooms that hold memories for me. He walked around with his assistant, Andrea Devit, and keenly spotted a crude vase sitting on my china cabinet  He took it down and quickly devoured it.  That vase with leftover marbles that held my (gasp) holly branches turned out to be Pre-Columbian and worth quite a bit.

Commitment to mentoring   

Lawson’s business has grown and now consists of four employees. He hires from a pool of people whose careers are on the museum track and generally have been Fine Arts majors.  His employees get real life experience on value (generally missing from their studies) and then continue on to earn their Master’s and Doctorates.

Mark Lawson Antiques now has two locations: Saratoga and Colonie. He and his team split their time doing evaluations by appointment. They also do roadshow-type events throughout the area. He modestly admits to being very surprised by his notoriety, but I seriously doubt others are surprised after meeting him.

Susan Beaudoin
By Cherie Haughney

Born to depression-era parents, Susan Beaudoin was raised to value education and to work hard to reach her full potential. This lesson, just one of many she has learned over the course of her impressive career, may have been the most important, helping this Wynantskill native and Troy High School graduate catch the approving eye of Washington, D.C.

Beaudoin, who currently serves as assistant vice president of administration at Schenectady County Community College (SCCC), oversees everything from general services and major procurements to risk management and geographic expansion. She also teaches college courses in business, ethics, state and local government, financial accounting and law.

Although Beaudoin certainly has a full slate of responsibilities at SCCC, she has also set her sights on helping the college establish a program that would work hand-in-hand with the state’s potential gaming expansion. This program would train SCCC students for careers in casino management and casino marketing.

“New York is going to need people who are trained to work in casinos. Schenectady County Community College is in a perfect position to offer coursework that prepares people to work in this field,” Beaudoin said. “We could be a resource casinos look to for staff, and we’d be filling a critical role in employing New Yorkers. Who better than a community college?”

Full speed ahead: The road to Washington

After graduation from an accelerated high-school program at Troy High School, Beaudoin graduated from SUNY New Paltz magna cum laude, earning her bachelor’s degree in political science in three years. She then went on to earn her juris doctor at Pace University School of Law. She also holds an MBA in management from Union College.

This year Beaudoin celebrates her 29th year of being admitted to the bar, the beginning of a remarkable career that encompasses everything from education and politics to project start-ups and contract negotiations.

Beaudoin’s post-law-school path began in private practice as a personal-injury litigator in the Bronx, where she tried her first case three weeks after being admitted to the bar. She then moved to another law firm as an associate attorney, where she argued a case in front of the court of appeals for a head-injury victim rendered unable to work or live on her own. Although Beaudoin lost the case at the appellate level, the decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals, and she won a multi-million-dollar settlement for her client. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association called Beaudoin’s case the most significant case of the year due not only to the reversal, but because her argument created law.

“That was so satisfying. It was a life-changing moment,” Beaudoin said.
From there, Beaudoin made her way to the Capital District Transportation Authority, and managed their legal affairs before becoming general counsel for the New York Lottery.

After the devastating events of 9/11 and its’ impact on Wall Street, the state needed to find ways to generate revenue. Then-Governor George Pataki had long considered casino gaming a viable economic development opportunity for upstate New York’s faltering economies, and in 2001, he signed into law the largest expansion of legalized gambling in the state’s history. The law included plans for video lottery terminals and support for participation in the multi-state Mega Millions lottery game. Enter Beaudoin, who worked with nearly a dozen other states to negotiate New York’s contract. “Now, the racino industry is booming. It has generated jobs and revenue for local economies and it supports education. This was really my first foray into education.”
If the New York State Lottery gave Beaudoin a taste for working in the field of education, the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) solidified it. As HESC’s general counsel and senior vice president of legal affairs, Beaudoin directed legal affairs for this state agency, which helps students and families pay college costs through federal loans, grants, scholarships and loan forgiveness programs.

After two years at HESC, Beaudoin was appointed acting deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. For nearly a year-and-a-half, Beaudoin managed higher-education programs administered under the Higher Education Act, which provided more than $2 billion in funding to increase access to education and to expand international education and foreign-language studies programs.

“As a presidential appointee, I had a chance to work on so many important issues,” Beaudoin said. “This position gave me an opportunity to meet, impact and help hundreds of thousands of people who struggle to overcome barriers to education.”

Her passion for education is evident as she describes groundbreaking educational-access programs she visited at places such as El Paso Community College and at a Chinese-language immersion program at an Oregon grammar school.

Upon returning to the Capital Region, Beaudoin was hired as general counsel for the Office of the NYS Chief Information Officer/Office for Technology, where she managed the agency’s legal affairs and administered $2 billion in federal grants to increase access to post-secondary education for disadvantaged students.

Community connections
Outside the office, Beaudoin is co-founder and co-host of “Real Conversations”, a locally produced television show she created with her friend, Lisa Giruzzi. The show’s origins date back to a random breakfast conversation about a film the two women had seen.

“I said to Lisa, ‘You know, we should do a talk show. People would want to listen to this conversation,’” Beaudoin said. And although both women were busy with their respective careers (Beaudoin was living and working in Washington at the time, with weekend trips back to the Capital Region), they reached out to Schenectady’s Public Access Network and set the wheels in motion. Less than four months later, “Real Conversations” was born.
Within a year, WNYA My4 Albany, picked up the program. Now in its sixth season, “Real Conversations” airs on My4 Albany on Saturdays at 10am, as well as on Colonie and Schenectady public-access stations.

“The show’s overarching theme is to improve the quality of lives of the people who watch it,” We focus on what’s trending, and we’re usually ahead of what’s being reported.”

The program’s topics have ranged from domestic violence, gun control and mental illness to public transit, environmental issues and the economy.
In addition to “Real Conversations” Beaudoin spent two years with Father Time (now operating as Community Fathers, Inc.), a Schenectady-based program that helps fathers estranged from their children navigate the court system, earn GEDs, get back on their feet and re-establish healthy relationships with their children. When the group lost its funding, Beaudoin helped the group create a not-for-profit to keep the organization running. She still serves on the organization’s board.

“This organization is still going strong, helping fathers who want a relationship with their children become strong role models for their kids and for their communities,” she said.

Beaudoin is now a Schenectady County resident who is proud to call the Capital Region home. She enjoys her proximity to state government and the area’s array of colleges and universities. When she has a few spare moments, Beaudoin enjoys cooking, reading, exercising and spending time with friends, family and her two beloved cats.

“I really love this area’s small-town feel and quaintness,” she said. “It’s a vacation destination to many, and I’m happy that it’s home for me.”

Suvir Saran
By Cherie Haughney

Suvir Saran is a proud Washington County resident and farmer. Together with his partner, Charlie Burd, he runs American Masala Farm in Hebron, where he raises heritage-breed animals, grows organic fruits and vegetables and plays an active role in his community. 

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of his other accomplishments.

Saran is also a world-renowned chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, kitchenware designer, educator, activist and television personality. He served as a featured judge on Food Network’s “Iron Chef” and “Next Iron Chef” and competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” Saran and his recipes have been featured on television and in more than 50 national and international publications, including Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, InStyle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, as well as “Today” and “The Martha Stewart Show.” And then there are his three critically acclaimed cookbooks: Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country; American Masala: 125 New Classics from my Home Kitchen; and Indian Home Cooking—cookbooks that are not only inspiring, but also beautifully written.

It would be an understatement to say that Saran is busy. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

From New Delhi to Manhattan: A culinary journey
Saran came to the United States from his native New Delhi, India at age 20 to study graphic art and art history at New York City’s School of Visual Arts (SVA). In the evenings, he found himself “craving and missing India’s delicious and fresh food.” By comparison, the Indian food he found in the United States at the time was frozen, processed and packaged.

“At that time, people weren’t cooking Indian food; they were simply opening packages and microwaving or steaming it,” Saran said. “In India, I grew up knowing food that was chopped, prepared and massaged. It had colors and textures and tastes and temperatures that were typical of the Indian table. It made me homesick and also sad for what the U.S. didn’t have as the richest and most powerful country in the world.”

So Saran hosted dinners—for professors, for neighbors, for friends and for friends of friends. His mission: to bring people together to introduce them to the myriad flavors, textures and subtleties of “real Indian food.” Eventually, Saran would become a renowned chef and owner of Dévi, a 75-seat restaurant in Manhattan that was, at the time, the only Michelin-Star-rated Indian restaurant in North America.

Saran drew—and continues to draw—his culinary inspiration from his childhood home’s beloved chef, Panditji, and his mother. At home, Panditji “controlled the kitchen,” and at his side, Saran gained a deep and lifelong appreciation and passion for food—from the ingredients and process to a passion for cooking and the deep satisfaction of bringing friends and family together through food.

When Saran, the son of a government bureaucrat and teacher, moved from New Delhi to Nagpur, Panditji stayed behind to care for his grandmother’s household, and Saran turned to his mother for inspiration. In his most recent cookbook, Masala Farm, Saran writes, “Mom’s think-ahead approach to food and entertaining made it possible for us to eat regally for little cost and with little waste. She meticulously planned and rationed her ingredients, for it wasn’t possible to run out to the corner market if her supplies were depleted.”

Through his mother, Saran learned an appreciation for mindful cooking and mindful eating.

“Food cooked mindfully is all about seasonality, mood, who you’re cooking for and time of day,” he said. “If I can change one life in America by changing how someone feels about food, then I’m happy. How we feel is about the choices we make. When you eat and live mindfully, you’re leaving a legacy for future generations who learn from you.”

From the Big Apple to apple orchards: A farming life
How did this nationally renowned chef come to make his home in Washington County? Their story is due, in small part, to “Baby Boom”, a 1987 Diane Keaton comedy about a high-powered Manhattan career woman who “inherits” a toddler, buys a Vermont farmhouse, stumbles upon a multi-million-dollar opportunity to make and sell gourmet applesauce and lives happily ever after.

“Charlie saw a Diane Keaton movie and was taken with the idea of moving to a farm,” Saran said. But the larger part of their story dates back to a visit with the couple’s good friend, and Saran’s literary agent, who owns Consider Bardwell Farm, just 10 miles from the couple’s present-day home. It was while visiting her farm and artisanal cheese enterprise that the two fell in love with and decided to make a go of farm living.

Although the couple’s circle of friends in Manhattan questioned their decision to move four hours north of the city, these self-proclaimed “city slickers” embarked on an eight-month search for the perfect home. “To me, this was the wilderness,” Saran said. “My father called it the ‘deep, deep wilderness.’”

Just as the couple settled on a property and prepared to sign on the dotted line, their realtor suggested that they see just one more farm. By this time, Saran had grown weary of the property search, so while Burd toured the turmeric-colored farmhouse, Saran stood in the driveway and took in the property’s vistas. “While I was standing there, I saw a blue heron catching fish in one of the ponds, and I knew it was a sign that this would be our home.”
The couple purchased the 68-acre property, comprised of a farmhouse and eight outbuildings, and promptly named it American Masala Farm. In addition to its organic crops, the couple raise heritage-breed animals, which include chickens, ducks, geese, sheep, alpacas and goats. (The goats, however, will soon be sold to local goat farmers and cheese makers—that is, all but two or three to which Saran has grown attached, including a three-legged goat he can’t bear to part with and one whose birth he witnessed.)

“Did I seek out this life? No. But it’s now mine. I have found magic here. I find amazing discoveries every time I look out my window. There is always something amazing to see and be amazed by, something that says to me, ‘You have a lot more to learn, young man.’”

And although they now run a thriving operation that seems almost flawless in its execution, neither man had any previous farming experience. But Saran said the prospect of moving from Manhattan to a working farm in upstate New York didn’t faze them…much.

“For the first five-and-a-half years, I didn’t sleep well at the farm,” he confided. “Every noise, every bump in the night had me on edge. But we were two youngsters who each left home and moved to Manhattan alone and set up a life. Nothing fazes us.”

Saran and Burd have made the farm and Washington County their home for almost seven years.

“This is God’s country. The seasons are so beautiful up here. The grass is more verdant, the flowers are more beautiful, the air is fresher, we are connected to nature…it is bliss,” Saran said. “This is home.”

Community first: An inspired (and inspiring) life
When Saran and Burd left the 24-hour-a-day, fully lit hustle and bustle of New York City, they knew they were headed for the beauty of Washington County’s ink-black nights, wide-open spaces and rolling hills. But they were somewhat unprepared for the beauty of—and their deep appreciation for—neighbors and community. 

Whether they are supplying local schools with winter coats for needy children, stocking the local food pantry, hosting dinners and cooking classes for neighbors and charities, working with children in the community garden or donating services to food and wine festivals, Saran and Burd have become important and generous fixtures in their community. It’s a role they don’t take lightly, and they strongly support farm-to-table living, buying local, volunteering and putting trust in one’s community.

In 2011, when Saran competed in Season 3 of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” he raised money for Greenwich-based Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA), a community-supported land trust that protects local farmland from development that is “very dear to his heart.”

Saran also does his part to frequent and tout other local farms and businesses through his website, blog posts and his cookbooks, Masala Farm. Many times cookbooks written by nationally renowned chefs often source exotic, hard-to-find ingredients from quaint markets tucked away in fashionable Manhattan neighborhoods, Napa Valley back roads or Long Island farm stands. Masala Farm sources food from places both familiar and beloved by Capital Region residents—places like Saratoga’s Max London’s, Mrs. London’s Bakery and Café and Saratoga Apple; Salem’s famed Battenkill Valley Creamery, Sheldon Farms and Gardenworks; and Glens Falls-based The Chocolate Mill Pastry Shop and Café.

Teaching and learning: A virtuous circle
Of all of Saran’s roles, he said the ones that bring him the most satisfaction are cooking and teaching.
He serves as chairman of the Asian Culinary Studies World Cuisines Council for The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and he has taught nationwide at culinary centers that include Sur La Table, the Institute for Culinary Education, Williams Sonoma and Cooks of Crocus Hill. He has also been a featured speaker at conferences at the CIA, Harvard Medical School and the Smithsonian.

But Saran most enjoys traveling to and teaching underserved populations and schools with little funding, often at his own expense. “I want to reach people no one else is reaching—people I don’t reach through my restaurants. The restaurant is a place for me to share my cuisine with people, but I can only reach 300 people a night. Through teaching, I can reach thousands.”

Although I have my sights set on Saran’s shrimp and sweet corn curry, penne with popped tomatoes and bacon, summer potato pie and banana caramel pudding, Saran said choosing his favorite recipe is akin to deciding which of your children you love best. If pressed, however, he admitted that his favorite recipe is “trouble.”

“I love stirring the pot and starting conversations and debates…sharing opinions. That’s my calling,” he said. “I like to look at people, question and be questioned, teach. I don’t pull any punches in my adventures with the public. I do what is correct, not what is popular.”

And although it may seem as if Saran has done it all and is too busy to do more, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, he has two new cookbooks in the works—one on regional Indian cuisine and another featuring what he calls “playful, delicious cooking.” Last year, Saran sold his shares of Dévi, but his new restaurant, Sacred Monkey, is slated to open in Chicago this summer.

Saran said he describes his life as whimsical and unscripted. “I live to find challenges and go past them. An easy life would be horrible.”


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