Editor's Note: This is the first installment of the Patch Chef Series.
Chef Jeanine Dimenna started working in a kitchen when she was a 15-year-old student at Glen Cove High School. It was in the 80s and, at the time, she recalled that she and her friends would often hang out around the Tiffany House, a restaurant that was connected to the golf course on Lattingtown Road. One day, the staff offered her a job, which she accepted out of curiosity rather than a rooted interest in culinary art.
"I think it found me. I don't think I found it," Dimenna said.
The job was menial: prep work and dishes, but it sparked a passion in her, like the tempered flame of a gas oven, which has burned steadily since, fueling what has become a life's pursuit.
Now, she remembers going home on Sundays after finishing her shift and watching cooking shows on PBS; reading magazines and books as they came out, specifically Food & Wine, Bon Appetite and "The Joy of Cooking," in the manner of an enthusiast.
"I don't know ... I got enamored with the kitchen, the speed of everything and the way everything came together," she said.
During the next few years, enthusiasm was compounded with seriousness, and by the time she was 19, she was sharing responsibilities of head chef and on often nights running the kitchen.
"I caught on quickly and got very into it. I was not a very good student, but I was good with my hands," she recalled.
Now, Tiffany House, renamed Soundview, is under different ownership and Dimenna is the owner and executive chef of her own spot, Page One Restaurant in the city's downtown district on School Street.
At the age of 20, she studied with the culinary arts program at New York Tech, where she reexamined her hands-on knowledge from an academic angle. She explained that textbooks — with delineations of tested theories, methods and tradition — broadened her horizons by supplying more substance from which to build and grow creatively.
After school, she began a period of employment at the Harrison House, now known as the Glen Cove Mansion, which lasted more than 10 years. With a large budget and the extensive variety of American cuisine, Dimenna explained, that she was able to advance her creative impulses, using her studies to incorporate techniques from many cultures, particularly Asian and Cajun in her dishes.
"American cooking encompasses so many different backgrounds," she said.
As influences, she mentioned mainstream chefs like Charlie Trotter and Paul Prudhomme as well as celebrity chef Robert Del Grande because he was self taught. Mary Ann Esposito is also at the top of her list, as a figure and a chef, because she was one of the earliest prominent women in the field.
Dimenna, however, has never worked in New York City, where masses of chefs flock at one time or another, as if it were a culinary Mecca, obligatory to make a pilgrimage once in their lives. Instead, she got married and started a family, remaining in Glen Cove where she was raised, had worked her whole life, and at one point, served as secretary of the Glen Cove Downtown Business Improvement District (BID).
She opened Page One in 1997 with Peter Antonopoulis, an experienced restauranteur, and has since used it to participate in many community fundraisers. Now, with the constraints of managing and responsibilities of operating under her own budget, she does not have as many opportunities to indulge in her creative impulses. However, Dimenna has been able to maintain the multi-verse range of cultural influence that is inherent to American cuisine of her menu, which even sports a list of designer hamburgers.
As for her favorite dish, she did not have a quick answer. She loves the challenge of working with seafood, but she settled on the estimation that she gets excited about everything that she cooks.
Know a chef in Glen Cove that should be featured in this series? E-mail your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (516) 473-9041.