Chef Sal Addonisio

of Sal’s New York Grill and Catering

Story by Jamey Bradbury • Photography by Latonia Gaston

Growing up in Queens, NY – just a block from Mafioso John Conti – Chef Sal Addonisio says, “I thought I’d be an engineer or a tailor – some kind of work with my hands. The only thing I could do with my hands, though, was cook.”

The native New Yorker was raised on his mother’s cooking and familiar with the food industry, thanks to his restaurateur grandfather. Sal graduated from the New York Food and Hotel Management School and went to work at a series of eateries that ranged from pizzerias to delis, and even to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where he learned to cook for large crowds when the hotel played host to “air drops.”

“That’s what we’d call them – a plane couldn’t take off because of bad weather, so the passengers would come to the hotel and stay there, and we had to come up with this really fancy meal for 350 people on the fly,” Sal recalls.

He also learned to create a kitchen from scratch when he worked for a Kosher catering company. To adhere to Kosher law, Sal and his coworkers often found themselves renting brand new, never-used kitchen equipment and building temporary kitchens in hallways or corridors.

Cooking in unexpected places for huge groups inspired the eventual creation of Sal’s New York Grill and Catering. Sal and his wife relocated to Alaska in 1994. After working at Bethel’s Pacifica Guesthouse, then making pizzas at Chilkoot Charlie’s, Sal – a father of two who spends the bulk of his free time coaching various kids’ sports – realized he didn’t want to be tied to a restaurant day in and day out.

“The restaurant business can really weigh you down if you allow it to,” he admits. “Catering lets me schedule things so I can still coach and be part of my kids’ lives.”

But Sal is still up for any catering challenge – like the woodland scene made completely out of food for the celebration of a client’s new baby. “I made pinecones out of cream cheese and hedgehogs out of artichokes and spinach,” he recalls. “I love collaborating with my clients on their events, coming up with something creative.”

Bringing his New York attitude to Alaska ingredients, Sal enjoys turning our state’s huge, flavorful produce and wide variety of fish into crowd-pleasing meals for as few as 25 people and as many as 1,000.

The home cook shouldn’t be afraid of cooking for a crowd, Sal says; all it takes is timing and preparation. Have all of your ingredients pre-measured and staged ahead of time, including the oils with which you’ll do your sautéing and tools you’ll need, like tongs or skewers. Familiarize yourself with each dish you plan to prepare – particularly with how long each item will need to cook.

“Your potatoes will take at least an hour, so you get those in first,” Sal offers as an example. “Your steak will take between five and 10 minutes, and your vegetables have already been blanched, so now it’s a matter of sautéing them. If you’re staged well, you can time each component so your dinner comes out all at once, and you can relax and enjoy your company.”

Or, if you’re not up for the challenge, you can always call Sal – the New York chef who’s fed hundreds of Alaskans at a time, from Bethel to Anchorage.