Susanne Dillingham, The Tiny Chef
At age 17, my passion for food and the fiery environment of the kitchen has fueled my professional and educational choices. My first culinary experience was a Saturday night solo as dishwasher for Cino Grille Restaurant. I worked my way up to prep cook and then to a line chef, eagerly turning all tasks into learning experiences.
While I feel that the best way to become a fine Chef is through hands-on experience, I also know that education is important. This is why I chose to enroll at Apicius, The International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy. I was able to fully immerse myself in the craft and culture of Italian cuisine and wine. Studying under some of the top Chefs and Sommelier’s in Italy, including Award-winning Pastry Chef Andrea Bianchini, I learned the basic skills necessary to be successful in the professional kitchen.
After returning to the United States I began working as Garde Manger for the upscale seafood restaurant, Upstream in Charlotte, North Carolina. As I worked there for one year, I also enrolled in and successfully completed the Wine Fundamentals I and II classes with the International Sommelier Guild. Soon after completing the program, I decided to begin a new path in the wine industry and worked in a small retail wine shop in Charlotte called, Selwyn Wine Cellar. As a manager and wine consultant, I gained a lot of experience in this field. To expand my knowledge in wine-making, I was a harvest intern for Chase Family Cellars 2006 harvest in St. Helena, California. I took part in the de-stemming, crushing, and fermentation processes. I decided shortly after my harvest internship to enroll into two different wine schools to obtain my Sommelier and Advanced wine diplomas. As of August 2009, The Tiny Chef now holds an advanced diploma with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and a Sommelier Diploma with the International Sommelier Guild.
At age 21, I earned the title of Executive Chef for HADCO, a Viking appliance distributor in Charlotte, NC. In HADCO’s live showroom, I began teaching cooking classes and conducting lively chef demonstrations. This job led me to find my calling to teach and gave me the courage to open my own business, The Tiny Chef, in October of 2007.
In the fall of 2009, I took a 3 month trip around Ireland, Spain, and Italy working on various farms, learning the ins and outs of farming and production methods of milk, almonds, olive oil, wine, and more. The knowledge gained from my farming experiences led me to be a better chef and I became more passionate about using local and in-season produce throughout the year for my business.
Since 2011, I serve NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon and his wife, model and actress Ingrid Vandebosch, as their private chef. This opportunity has allowed me to focus on continuing to build my farm dreams and be able to continue teaching and cooking for others on the weekends. In November 2017, I bought a small farm in Gold Hill, NC. Currently, we are growing edible flowers and many other herbs, fruits, and vegetables. I have also started bee keeping and have 4 hives.
I believe in taking on any challenges that life may bring, in hopes that the experiences will continue teaching her how to be a better chef, tiny farmer, teacher, and human.