Susanne Dillingham’s sister came up with the name for her business: The Tiny Chef. “She asked me what is the first thing people notice about me? It’s that I’m small,” says Dillingham, 30. Her first restaurant position was as a dishwasher at Cino Grille when she was 17, followed by jobs at Toscana and Upstream. She studied culinary arts at Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy, and in 2007 founded The Tiny Chef. She provides personal meal preparation and cooking classes, often featuring food from local farms.
Q. How did your childhood define your style?
A. My mom had a French hand-sewing business called the French Bonnet. Everything I had was smocked. I was always dressed well, with a huge bow, Southern-style, and huge glasses. Nobody ever made fun of me. I think I was always comfortable with myself.
Q. What word describes your style?
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A. Strange. I love Italian clothes, and I love Italian style. I’m 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, and a lot of my clothes are children’s clothes, which is wonderful when you have expensive tastes, because children’s clothes are half the price.
Q. Why do you have such an affinity for Italy?
A. When I worked for Toscana, Augusto’s brother Johnny told me, “When you go to culinary school, you should really go to Italy. That’s the place you will learn the most.” They said, “Don’t go to France.”
Q. Why not France?
A. The French think their food is more refined. The Italians think the French stole everything.
Q. What do you love about Italian design?
A. The colors are different. The fit works for me. The craftsmanship. The leather is amazing. The Italians really care about quality vs. quantity. It’s the same thing with food.
Q. Do you buy shoes there?
A. Yes. Most of my shoes are made by Vic Matie. They are made by hand. And OXS.
Q. Tell me a few of your favorite Italian designers.
A. Dolce & Gabbana. I have a bathing suit by them I’ve been wearing for 8 years, and it still looks good. Cavalli is whimsical, and uses a lot of snakes, and snake print. There’s an everyday brand called Pepe Nero that I like a lot.
Q. Tell me a few things in your refrigerator.
A. Colorful radishes, bok choy and whole wheat flour from Cold Water Creek Farms, eggs from Windy Hill Farm, and butter from Cackleberry Farm.
Q. Why do you buy local food?
A. These are friends of mine, and I want to support what they are doing, and they do the same for me. If anything is wrong with the food, I know who to go to if I have any questions. I know how it’s produced, how it’s grown, and how they are feeding the animals.
Q. What piece of clothing can’t you live without?
A. It’s from J. Crew. It’s the most beautiful coat you’ve ever seen. It’s red, and it has flowers and berries all over it.
Q. What are your work shoes?
A. Dansko shoes. You have to learn to walk in them so you don’t break your ankles.
Q. What’s always in your purse?
A. A wine bottle opener.
Q. Any fashion quirks?
A. I like a dress with pockets, because my hands are always cold.
Q. Your best bargain?
A. Everything. When I like something, I wait to see if it is going to go on sale, or if I can get it in a children’s size. Like Uggs. Size 5 kids’ fit me, and they are cheaper. And they have sparkles. Once you put your foot in them it’s like angels kissing your feet.
Q. What’s one of your favorite meals to cook?
A. There’s a dish I make called vincigrassi that uses a variety of meats and béchamel sauce. It’s easy to make, and everybody loves it.
Q. Tell me a wine you like.
A. I prefer Jeff Gordon Cellars. He has a beautiful 2009 Cabernet that is coming out right now.
Q. What’s your favorite comfort food?
A. Macaroni and cheese. Italians always die when I say that.