“I have a less-is-more approach,” says Sam Diminich, the executive chef at Vine American Kitchen in Ballanyne: “Let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Diminich, 37, took on the executive chef position this past spring, motivated by the restaurant’s chef-driven approach and its commitment to “a great restaurant experience.”
He is now showcasing his culinary skills with a menu he says features seasonal dishes driven by local markets.
“It is a privilege to come in every day, and the icing on the cake is that it is in my backyard,” Diminich said.
Diminich lives off the Greenway in Ballantyne with his wife, Tracy McDonald, and their two children, Constance, 10, and Allan, 7.
He said he has a four-minute walk to work. His route from serving as a busboy in his family’s Italian restaurant in Myrtle Beach to his current gig heading the kitchen at Vine American Kitchen was more circuitous.
Diminich grew up in Myrtle Beach, devoting his free time to surfing and working in his family’s restaurant. His grandparents, who came from Italy, opened Myrtle Beach’s first Italian restaurant, The Roma, in 1956. Diminich worked as a busboy and dishwasher.
He graduated from high school in July 1994 and enrolled in the nearby culinary arts program at Georgetown County Tech. His father arranged for Diminich to work as a line cook at Sea Island Inn restaurant in Myrtle Beach.
Everything at Sea Island Inn was made in-house, from the breads and pastas to terrines.
“It was my first time working with fresh herbs,” Diminich said. “I was hooked.”
It was there that Diminich decided cooking was what he wanted to do with his life.
Diminich received an associate degree in culinary arts from Georgetown Tech in 1996. The following year, he entered a culinary competition sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America. Diminich won the apprentice category and a scholarship for the first term at the CIA in Hyde Park, N.Y.
The Myrtle Beach restaurant sponsored Diminich for the remaining four terms, so that is where he returned after graduating from the CIA in December 1999.
During his third term, when CIA students are required to complete an apprenticeship off campus, Diminich worked at Lebec Fin, a five-diamond restaurant in Philadelphia. That experience taught Diminich the importance of teamwork, he said.
“You did not want to be the person to let the team down,” he said.
Diminich was responsible for straining and refining the 35 to 40 sauces the restaurant made each day. His said his takeaway from his time there, which informs how he now conducts his kitchen, were the standards that were set for everyone, the techniques, the pace, the camaraderie and the collaboration.
Diminich was promoted to executive chef at the Sea Island Inn; however, “I wasn’t ready,” he says.
He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked at several restaurants before returning to Myrtle Beach after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when, he says, “people stopped going out to eat.” The post 9/11 economy cost Diminich his job.
He moved back home, managed his father’s restaurant and met the woman he would marry.
The couple moved to Charlotte in 2004 for McDonald’s job as an insurance adjustor, and Diminich worked at several restaurants, including New South, Blue, Upstream, Arpa and Lotus in Gastonia before taking on the executive chef duties at Vine.
“I’m proud of what we’re doing here in South Charlotte,” he said.
“We have the food, the wine, and the ambiance right here,” he said.
Vine American Kitchen is at 13735 Conlan Circle in Ballantyne. Visit www.vinekitchen.com or call 704-469-5282.