Celebrating 25 Years of Delicious Dishes—and Tradition
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa has just published a cookbook titled 25 Years on the Point.
The book includes recipes for some of the most popular dishes served at the inn's Fresh Salt restaurant, many of which are classic Italian-American dishes handed down through generations of the Tagliatela family-which owns the inn-and reinvented by Leslie Tripp, the restaurant's chef.
Tripp collaborated closely on the cookbook with Mary Tagliatela of North Haven, who, in 1980, with her husband, Louis, built Saybrook Point Inn. Today, the Tagliatelas' son Stephen manages the property along with their daughter, Tricia, and other son, Louis, Jr., who oversees capital projects.
"The reason we wanted to develop this cookbook was to commemorate our 25 years as Saybrook Point Inn and to tell a little about the history of the family with hospitality and food-and to dedicate this book to our dad, who passed away in January," says Tricia.
Food was always an integral part of the Tagliatela family's life. Mary's father established the Pegnataro food market chain in Greater New Haven-which the family ran for more than 50 years-and operated The Castle Inn on Old Saybrook's Cornfield Point from the late 1950s to early '60s.
Tripp says it was hard to boil down so many recipes to just eight for the cookbook.
"It was a lot of process of elimination because there were so many favorite recipes we wanted to get in there," he explains. "But we felt the ones that were finally selected were meaningful to customers and family members."
Mary says that over the years her family has enjoyed the recipes she picked out for the cookbook. These include baked cod with fresh tomato sauce over capellini and Lou's Lobster stuffed with scallops.
Even if they didn't all make the final cut for the cookbook, many of Mary's dishes are served on the restaurant's à la carte menu and at the brunch, like her ricotta cheesecake and holiday desserts, says Tripp.
Mary, who has a degree in nutrition, says she's always loved cooking.
"I cooked three meals a day for 67 years for the whole family," she says. "My husband came home for lunch every day."
She admits that she and Louis did begin going out to dinner on Saturday nights after the kids were grown.
"Dining in our house was always a feast," says Tricia. "There were so many side dishes. It was always an interesting meal. And if we showed up with friends that were unexpected, somehow mom could put together enough for everybody. We don't know how she did it."
"I love cooking fish, pasta, and I love making soups," Mary says. "I used to have my counters filled with baked goods at the holidays-everything you can think of in the Italian tradition."
"My parents dined at wonderful restaurants in all of their travels," Tricia adds, "and if there was something they particularly enjoyed, they would figure out what was in it and recreate it at home. My dad enjoyed cooking, too. It was a hobby of his when he retired."
One of the challenges of publishing the recipes in a cookbook was that, like many old family recipes, many of Mary's didn't have set measurements.
"We had to put some measurements down-how much olive oil or how much garlic-to share the recipes with everyone," Tripp says.
Mary would assist by making adjustments when she came into the restaurant for dinner on Saturday nights.
"She'd say, 'That needs more tomato, more lemon, more scallops, less scallops, more parsley'-things like that-and we'd write it all down," Tripp says.
Although Tripp has been the restaurant's chef for less than four years, his relationship with the Tagliatela family goes back 25 years.
"He consulted with us when we first opened," Tricia says. "And as my brother says in the book, it took three tries to get him here."
Before he signed on at Saybrook Point Inn, Tripp was the chef at the New Haven Lawn Club.
"Mr. and Mrs. Tagliatela would play tennis at the Lawn Club and come in for lunch," Tripp recalls. "I loved to cook for them, and that's how our relationship developed."
Tripp says the restaurant prides itself on relationships with local vendors.
"You hear a lot of farm to table-it's the movement now for a lot of chefs, and that's okay, but I don't think there are many places doing it as extensively as we are," he says.
Fresh Salt's produce comes from Cecarelli Farms in Northford, a family-run farm that's been in operation for three generations. Several acres of vegetables are grown exclusively for the restaurant, including tomatoes, lettuces, corn, and eggplants, from seeds brought back from Italy by the restaurant's director.
"We go right to the fields and inspect [the produce] twice a week," Tripp says. "In November, December, when the season is winding down, I'll sit with the farmers and talk about next year and things I'd like to see on my menu and things they can realistically grow. I'll literally go through seed books and pick out our tomatoes."
Herbs and arugula that supply the restaurant are grown in the inn's gardens.
The inn also has won more than a dozen awards for its green practices. It was the first hotel to be named a Certified Energy Hotel in 2007, and its marina was named the first "Clean Marina" in Connecticut.
"In everything we do here, we always try to figure out if there is another way to do it that's a little more green and has less impact on the environment or less waste," Stephen says.
Stephen says his mother is still experimenting with recipes.
"She's 91 and she'll pick out a recipe in a magazine that she's never cooked before and experiment with it, he says."
"I have a Haitian woman who comes over at 4 in the afternoon and stays until 8, and what am I going to have her do?" Mary asks. "So we cook. I taught her how to make sauce and fish and stuffed zucchini, and how to make eggplant baked with cheese in a casserole. She learned a lot from me. Maybe she should pay me!" she jokes.
The Tagliatelas enjoy knowing these family recipes are being passed on through the generations-and are being shared with the general public in the restaurant and cookbook.
They also agree that their mother's many recipes warrant a bigger, more comprehensive cookbook, which hopefully will be on the menu soon.
The cookbook 25 Years on the Point is available for purchase at Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, 2 Bridge Street, Old Saybrook.
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