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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

Inspired by Europe
Sautés To Go links the farmer and fisherman to the chef

By Philippa Stasiuk

GUILDERLAND—An elderly man calls chef and owner Paul Hall at his new restaurant, Sautés To Go, to ask if he can make chicken cacciatore. Hall counters by asking which version he’d like — the American or the real one.  There is silence on the other end of the line.

Hall explains that the American version is chicken smothered in tomato sauce while the real version contains Madeira wine, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, and a demi-glace, which is a reduction of a rich brown veal stock. Hall knows which is better but the gentleman remains unsure. His ambivalence is the reason why Hall loves what he does, and why he says the concept of Sautés To Go is so enterprising.

“People don’t appreciate good food and most people eat garbage,” he said. “Cooking is one of life’s most important things. It’s health-related. I like to see people happy and trying different and interesting foods.”

Sautés To Go is the realization of an idea that came to Hall while dreaming six years ago. In the dream, he created a moderately priced takeout-based restaurant that would offer a healthy alternative to people commuting from work with no time to cook. His menu contains 25 items, from sea scallops with honey mustard sauce to seared pork loin with plum glaze.

“My last restaurant was fine dining,” he said. “This is just fine dining to go.”

The fact that Sautés To Go is located in a former pizza joint is no coincidence. Hall, who was the chef and owner of Café 333 in Delmar, needed the perfect space to transform. It had to have a working kitchen in a small space that would cater mainly to takeout.

Two new six-burner Royal Brand stoves take up most of the space behind the counter. In chef speak, he says those stoves have the highest BTUs (British Thermal Units) available, which in lay terms means that they get very hot very quickly, a necessity in sautéing. The customers can watch Hall combine their dinner’s ingredients as they jump in the pan, which is what sauté means in French. 

The restaurant’s whereabouts were also pivotal to Hall’s restaurant idea. “I looked for a year for this location,” Hall said of the Carpenter Plaza site at 2568 Western Ave. in Guilderland. “It had to be in a bedroom community, which is the only place the concept would work. It had to have commuters.” 

In addition to running both the business and cooking end of the restaurant, Hall handpicks the ingredients himself.  Every week he goes to the Cousins Fish Market in Albany and the Menands wholesale produce market to choose the most affordable and freshest ingredients. 

It’s part of a business strategy that Hall says passes the cheap prices for wholesale food costs, which he says are the lowest they’ve been in years, onto the consumer. Most of the dinner items at Sautés To Go cost between $8 and $16 and the lunch entrées cost about $6.

Hall’s knowledge of the business comes from a lifetime spent working in restaurants. He grew up as one of 12 children in Austerlitz, N.Y. and worked alongside his siblings at his parents’ French restaurant in Great Barrington, Mass. After starting out washing dishes for a week, he moved to the kitchen to join his mother, and he’s been cooking ever since. 

Hall describes his stint at age 38 at Schenectady Community College’s culinary program as a hoop jump and instead credits years of European travel for teaching him about food and cooking. He travels abroad once a year and goes in search of something he claims cannot be found in America: the direct link between farms and restaurants.

“It’s not European here at all. It’s all gone by the wayside in America — that relationship between the farmer and the chef, the closeness it still has in European culture.”

The relationship between growing or catching food and eating it is a theme Hall returns to often. He gives an example of watching the speck of a rowboat appear on the horizon and come slowly in to port one early evening in Mykonos, Greece. As the fisherman rowed in, word quickly spread through the restaurants and by the time the little boat got to the port, a group of men were waiting for him. 

“When the fisherman got to the dock,” Hall remembers, “he had a big smile on his face and, within five minutes, every fish was purchased. Now that’s freshness!”

Hall says what he’s learned from European restaurants and tries to pass on in his own is “making sure what I carry over, what I buy, is the best” and he says he has “that same passion for food.” 

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