Chef and restaurant co-owner Sal Maddalena stirs up some delicious dishes at Mari Monte Ristorante at the Gateway West Shopping Center.

Sal Maddalena
Mari Monte Ristorante
1030 Forrest Ave., Dover • 674-0966
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

Sal Maddalena has been cooking veal, chicken, and fish since his childhood days in Italy, and he took a few moments Jan. 6 to share some tips for making sauce and talk about the most popular foods at his restaurant at the Gateway West Shopping Center.

Q How did you become a chef?
A I learned from my family. My mom cooked a lot for my five brothers. Someone always liked this or didn’t like that, but she would say that’s the meal and that we should eat it.
I grew up in Castello del Matese, which is in the mountains, near Naples in Italy. I came here [the United States] when I was 25. I started in New York; most Italians start in New York. When we were younger, my uncle was here. We came to New York on a vacation and decided to stay.

Q What dishes are most popular with your customers?
A I have a veal saltimbocca that’s cooked with mozzarella cheese and prosciutto, and that’s really the No. 1 seller. The Pollo Mari Monti, which is chicken breast topped with shrimp, scallops and mushrooms in a garlic wine sauce, is our next best seller because it has the name Mari Monti.

Q Do you make any unusual dishes?
A Sometimes, we cook a whole goat for parties and special events. There are some cold antipasti and then people can eat the goat as their main meal.
We have a few people that come in here and do not even look at the menu. They just say, “Make whatever you like.” And then I get to make them something new every week. They really enjoy themselves.

Q What’s the hardest part of being a chef?
A The long hours. The restaurant is a family operation — it’s run by me, my brother and my wife. There is a lot of preparation but we like it. We like dealing with the customers.

Q Do you ever receive any unusual requests?
A I saw one gentleman pouring ketchup on the pizza. And I said “No, no, don’t do that, you’ll ruin the pizza.” That is a funny story.

Q Do you have any advice for people that want to make a tasty spaghetti sauce themselves?
A I give people who come here advice all the time. We put lots of vegetables in our sauce — carrots, onions, celery — to soak with the tomatoes. You have to cook it for less than two hours. If you cook it for more than two hours, then you will overcook it. You have to be able to taste the freshness of the ingredients in your mouth.

Q What kind of activities do you enjoy when you’re not working?
A I have at my house a nice, big garden. I like to grow vegetables, and sometimes I bring the vegetables in here too. And I like to watch soccer — Italian, of course.