Anyone spending time in The South learns that New Yorkers hold a special place in the Damn Yankee hierarchy. They’ve developed a reputation of overwhelming self-assurance that clashes with the Southern self-perception of gracious hospitality and charm.
Then there are Yankees like Tim Grandinetti, who remind us of the pitfalls of stereotyping. The chef at Winston-Salem’s Spring House Restaurant Kitchen & Bar moved to the area ten years ago, and couldn’t sound more appreciative of his new southern home.
“When we started working on the Spring House, learning about the history of Winston and North Carolina was very interesting to me, because I’m not from here,” says the enthusiastic new Southerner. His interest carries into the restaurant’s garden. “Last fall we planted muscadine and scuppernong, just because they’re indigenous in North Carolina.”
The affable chef himself is indigenous to Hudson, New York, where he grew up within a vibrant Italian community. “It was like a giant, extended family,” he recalls with fondness. Tellingly, most of his childhood stories involve food—from the cucumbers in his father’s backyard garden, to the daily trips home from Smoltz’ bakery, noshing on a handful of raisins from Mr. Smoltz himself.
As one might expect, family gatherings focused on food.
“Even midweek meals were very special. There was a reverence, there was a respect. You were never late to Mom’s table.”
Family also inspired him toward a culinary career, following the footsteps of an older cousin enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Grandinetti attended SUNY Delhi as well as Rochester Institute of Technology, studying hotel and restaurant management, but it was entering the professional kitchen that truly sparked a passion for his vocation. The flame caught hold at a Disney internship, and grew as his career took him to Stamford, NY, Washington, DC and St. Louis, MO.
From small family-owned diners – “I learned more at that gig than I ever did at school” —to 12,000 room convention hotels – “I really got to learn the business side; the human resources side” – he gleaned something of value from every experience.
The traveling chef credits his biggest professional growth to twelve years with Marriott, advancing to guide a brigade of nearly 100 workers generating millions of dollars of revenue. Even in his current, much smaller business, he says, “I use those skills on a daily basis.”
Tim is putting those Marriott-honed management skills to work even more these days – as he now owns three Triad-area restaurants. In addition to Spring House, he also owns two locations of Quanto Basta: Italian Eatery & Wine Bar. One right up the street from Spring House in Winston-Salem. The other located in Bermuda Run, NC.
But it was Marriott that brought Grandinetti to the Carolinas, where our culinary traditions sparked another passion.
“I had my first barbeque sandwich out in Lexington, and it changed my world. Not only did I want to eat it again, we put together a barbecue competition team.”
Dr. Brownstone’s BBQ traveled from Charleston to Michigan, and as far west as Kansas City’s World Series of Barbecue. It even got him an appearance on a grill-focused version of the Food Network’s Chopped in 2012.
As his earlier statements hint, Grandinetti also has a lifelong appreciation for more seasonal ingredients. Just as his father did in more northerly climes, the garden at the Spring House keeps him attuned to the growing calendar, different as it may be here. “The seasons are stretched out here a little bit,” he says. “They start earlier, they last longer.” Which has some clear benefits: “I’m able to get beautifully grown tomatoes here six or seven months out of the year, which is quite nice.”
He’s also leading the charge to celebrate and support another crop with a surprisingly long season, the southern apple. When PCG leadership called for members to organize a benefit for Horne Creek Living Historical Farm in Pinnacle, NC, Grandinetti responded. The farm harbors the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard, preserving over 400 varieties of trees gleaned throughout the south by expert and author Lee Calhoun. While the PCG has hosted Charlotte-area dinners to benefit the orchard, it was time to bring the love back to Horne Creek.
“When the opportunity popped up, and they needed some Triad love because of the location of the farm, it was right up my alley,” Grandinetti says, recounting summer afternoons running through family orchards up north. He’s eager to help preserve so many special apple varieties, many found nowhere else. “It’s like the Ark of the Covenant, like a seed safe. I think this should be an annual event.”
He’s palpably excited about the menu, too, which is still in development. “What’s going to be great toward the end of July, the gardens will be full. So [we’ll have] tons of produce, and a couple of hogs are being procured from a local farmer up there that we’ll roast. It’s going to be a pig picking to the tenth power.”
Other PCG members, including Travis Myers (Willow’s Bistro), John Bobby (Noble’s Grille), and Jay Pierce (The Traveled Farmer), are on board in a show of force as the Triad has been selected as the region of PCG’s first Sister Guild. “Winston is alive; it’s happening,” Grandinetti says. “I do think that we are positioned well, and that there is a cadre of chefs and hospitality people that will really embrace the PCG’s modus operandi and help continue its growth.”
He’s already started fostering chef camaraderie on his own, with a tradition of events at the Spring House featuring his peers from near and far. For Grandinetti, it’s a natural outgrowth of his profession. “In the hospitality industry we are a very giving, a very generous group of people,” he says. “I think it’s fantastic to learn from one another, to grow, and the bottom line is–and I think the Charlotte scene really gets this–if we’re going to become a dining destination, we’re all in it together.”
It’s clear Grandinetti already lives the informal PCG motto of “all ships rise.” But he also demonstrates that, no matter where you’re from, you’re welcome at the table here in the Carolina Piedmont.
Profile written by Alison Leininger