Chef gathers community to table

Preserve head chef Gene Hall and his son (Courtesy photo)

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From its sophisticated ambiance to the signature cocktails and menu options, Preserve has established itself as one of Winters’ go-to spots. Now, they’ve found themselves a new head chef in Gene Hall who’s excited to serve the community some saucy new menu items derived from a lifetime of culinary experience.

Originally from Vacaville, Hall got his first job in a kitchen when he was just 15 years old. His step-grandfather was the head chef at the California Medical Facility (CMF) prison in Vacaville and a major influence on Hall’s budding infatuation with the culinary arts.

“My step-grandfather is from Hawaii and we did a lot of Hawaiian-style cooking growing up. With him, just cooking for the family always amazed me: how he could just cook everything and have it done at the same time,” Hall said. “Then, towards the end of his life, I got to spend a lot of time with him and I just jumped into trying to get into the bigger restaurants and fine dining and all that, and pursue it as a full-time career. He definitely pushed me to do it and said if I was going to do it then I needed to go to school.”

At the age of 20, Hall was off to school at Cordon Bleu in Sacramento. He also worked at Keanu’s in Vacaville for a time before taking his talents to St. Helena where he was a chef at Farmstead starting in 2010. Hall moved to Winters in 2016 and fell in love with the community. He would go to Preserve as a diner, and its alluring charm made him yearn to work there.

“I started going to Preserve just as a guest and I really liked the restaurant. I met Cole, the owner, and he took my number down. I’ve always wanted to work here and knew I’d try to get in here one day,” said Hall. “Then, when the time came, Cole gave me a call and I just jumped at the opportunity. I was at the other job for so long and I felt like I was ready to take on this spot here. I’ve also just fallen in love with this community and trying to be a part of it has been a big process for me and a goal of mine. It’s just awesome here.”

Hall became the head chef at Preserve in September 2022 and has been fusing new dishes into the menu featuring his specialty of southern-style cooking. He also backs up his spoken love for the community by sourcing his ingredients as local as possible — like eggs from the Winters FFA.

Hall also mentioned high schoolers are helping build an outdoor grill for live-fire cooking. Not only is that style of cooking over wood integral to Hall’s past, but another way he wants to bring the community together for special events.

“I enjoy really simple, rustic food. Elevated, but simple and rustic comfort food. I also love the idea, especially sourcing from local spots, of getting everybody involved and letting them see what their produce can be and making them proud of what they’re growing and giving that to me and trusting me,” said Hall. “Community is a huge part of my philosophy, letting people see what I can do and how I can respect what they do, and hopefully they respect what I can do, too. The community just means a lot to me because everybody comes together around the table. Being around the table brings family and neighbors together and that’s what food’s all about. Enjoying it together.”

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