Chef Greg Plingau came to Drift in 2020 after stints in Seattle and New York and is a menu mix master, integrating his European flair into American favorites.
About Greg Plingau
Greg Plingau’s lanky frame, boyish good looks, punk-rock haircut, and mannered modesty does not reveal he is a culinary conjurer of good things to eat. Folks may believe he is a shy, collegiate athlete, only to learn he is an executive chef at Drift in Myrtle Beach.
“He is demanding,’’ said Carlos Ramirez, general manager and an owner at the breakfast and lunch eatery. “He is by the book. He is a strong personality. He is proud of his food. He likes to present quality.”
Plingau starts food affairs that intentionally spark the cravings of customers while distinguishing him from other culinarians. He does so in an artful way that is unique, but uncomplicated and delicious. Plingau, 29, is an artisan of food. He paints palates with layers of flavor, which is logical because he is a real artist.
“I could make a very complicated and fancy menu,’’ Plingau said, “but my goal is to keep it simple and good like the way we do it in Europe.”
Chargrilled octopus is injected with Spanish flair and made nice with baby potatoes, bacon, scallions, roasted tomato confit and laced with lines of lemon vinaigrette. Chorizo shows up to the palate party in a benedict. Duck confit does the same and chills as a benedict too.
This menu mix master arrived from Moldova to Myrtle Beach as an exchange student who had studied interior design and interior architecture. He was a 21-year-old artist hoping to create surreal art, design furniture, and achieve other endeavors in his wheelhouse of study.
The artist he was quickly discovered the jobs he wanted weren’t the ones easily found in this coastal city.
“Since there were thousands of restaurants, I thought I would try cooking,’’ Plingau said while sitting corner table at Drift. He is 6 feet 1 and weighs 150 pounds. His frame is typical for basketball players. He has dark brunette hair, which is cut in an asymmetrical style. While speaking, he occasionally pushes bangs from his forehead.
Before he finally settled in Myrtle Beach, he had stints in Seattle and New York. Myrtle Beach won his loyalty because it was cost-effective and a place where he could rent a proper house, instead of paying for a studio apartment in a metropolitan city.
He got a gig at the now-defunct Johnny Rockets.
“I was cooking 1,000 burgers a day,’’ Plingau said. “It was a nightmare. It was very hard, very tough. I quit and took a break for a month.”
The year was 2014. After he took a month-long break, he landed a job at Old Café Vienna.
“I was a kitchen helper,’’ he said. “So, I was doing dishes and all this stuff. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t even know what the dishwasher looked like. I thought it was an oven.”
He wanted to quit that job too, but he decided to keep going because his inner chef was kicking inside his belly.
While growing up in Moldova, he saw the genius of his late mother, Julia Plingau. She was a master of making rustic meals abounding in flavor, although prepared and cooked with straightforward approaches.
“My mom taught me how to cook,’’ he said. “She was a chef. I liked being close to her and watching her cook. I was tasting and helping her chop up vegetables and other little stuff.”
One of his favorite meals was her stuffed cabbage.
“It is a traditional dish back home,’’ Plingau said. “So, you mix parboiled rice with meat and vegetables, and you roll them in the cabbage leaves, which you usually steam.’’
Once layered in a large iron pot and covered with seasoned, homemade tomato sauce, the cabbage rolls cooked for about an hour.
Memories as such helped him realize he had the abilities needed to be a solid chef. He proved himself after six months into his job at Old Café Vienna.
Plingau said the owner became ill one day and placed him on the line to cook.
“I was scared because I was on the line alone,’’ he said. “I just blew up.”
The owner made him a chef and guided him, including training him in knife skills. Plingau also took advantage of watching celebrity chefs on TV and plenty of YouTube videos. After he worked there for 6 years, he realized he needed to step up and challenge himself more. He had gone from making what was on the menu to creating specials. He had learned plenty, including how to make sauces and French cuisine.
An owner from Drift was aware of his talent after tasting Plingau’s food at Old Vienna Café. In 2020, he became the executive chef at Drift, which opened during the COVID pandemic.
“We got busy right away,’’ he said. “Nothing will stop people from eating, not even COVID.”
Drift’s menu is an assorted vision of familiar foods with cosmopolitan characteristics. The restaurant’s version of shrimp and grits, for instance, also features andouille sausage, an assortment of veggies (black bean, roasted corn, bell peppers, onion, and tomatoes), and house-made creole sauce that blankets yellow stone grits sprinkled with scallions. Panini toast smacked with garlic herb butter is served on the side.
“People nowadays forget about rustic food,” Plingau said. “Rustic food is our roots, and we should not forget them.”
By Johanna Wilson Jones, Local Food Writer and Judge on Chef Swap at The Beach
“I could make a very complicated and fancy menu but my goal is to keep it simple and good like the way we do it in Europe.’’
Lunch Chef Swap | Greg vs. Eugen
A Chef Swap Challenge with international flair! Amanda visits Ciao Italian restaurant and unique coastal eatery, Drift, for a Lunch Challenge. Things get messy as Chef Eugen Hysa and Chef Greg Plingau do their best to come up with a lunch dish to wow the judges.