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Chef Spotlight: Chef Mike Lata of FIG, Charleston

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Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.
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Chef Mike Lata
Chef Mike Lata, Executive Chef/Co-owner of FIG in Charleston

Mike Lata's passion for food started a thousand miles north from his current home in Charleston, SC. As a western Massachusetts native Mike developed a strong sense of the seasons by helping his grandparents with their garden. His first food memories are of picking green beans and hoeing potatoes then watching his grandmother transform them with seemingly no effort into perfect food.

After a brief stint at Northeastern University, Lata decided to make a career as a chef. He stayed in Boston working in various restaurants before being lured to Martha's Vineyard and eventually the famed Black Dog Tavern. Lata found himself at the heart of New England regional cookery and developed a real passion for seafood. He later went on to work in New Orleans for the Brennan Family and eventually landed in Atlanta at Ciboulette Restaurant founded by renowned chef Jean Banchet and his protegé Tom Coohill. Months after his arrival in 1994 Lata became the chef de cuisine and held the position until late 1997, where he maintained the Zagat rating of 27 for three and a half years.

While at Cibolette, Lata made a conscious decision about what type of chef he wanted to become. He made a determined effort to work with local farmers, ranchers and suppliers whose dedication to natural, sustainable agriculture was evident. He launched an unprecedented campaign to integrate mostly local product into his cooking and became a self-appointed spokesperson for the Georgia Organic Growers Association. This farm-to-table philosophy and European style of cooking based on the highest quality seasonal ingredients would become cornerstones of his career to follow.

Lata joined the Charleston dining scene in 1998 as Executive Chef at Anson, where he held the reigns for four years. While there, Anson was granted a five star (of possible five) review and Lata hosted the first out-of-house James Beard event in the state of South Carolina. It was also during these years that Lata's active endorsement of local farmers helped guide the conscience of the Charleston culinary scene toward the appreciation of locally grown, seasonal foods.

While at Anson, Lata met Celeste Albers a local grower with an unparalleled passion for perfection. With the help of Albers, Lata became recognized as a "champion of local produce" and helped move Charleston conscience toward the appreciation of locally grown vegetables and respect for the seasons.

In 2001, Lata fulfilled a life-long dream to travel and cook in France, where he worked and studied French cuisine at Michelin Star restaurants in Burgundy and Southern France. Upon his return he teamed up with former Anson manager Adam Nemirow to create a concept that fit both their passions and the competitive Charleston dining market.

FIG (Food is Good) was launched in the spring of 2001 under the guise of a neighborhood bistro. In a city with a wide array of high-end restaurants FIG wanted to be more approachable than its competition. Nemirow and Lata wanted to deliver delicious food and pleasant service in a convivial environment. It worked. In the first year of opening, FIG received many accolades including "best new restaurant" by the Charleston City Paper and attention from the New York Post, National Geographic Traveler and soon after, "Where to eat right now in America" 2004, by Gourmet Magazine. His travels abroad helped shape his philosophy and style of cooking, and many of his dishes on the menu nightly at FIG are directly inspired by his experiences in France.

A James Beard Award winner in 2009 for Best Chef in the Southeast, Lata enthusiastically supports several Charleston organizations, is an active member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and co-founder of Slow Food Charleston. Those who have the opportunity to enjoy Lata's simple and delicious cuisine agree with the legendary late New York Times food editor, R.W. Apple, who said, "There is much to like about FIG."

Discover Writer
Discover Writer
More from "Discover Writer"
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.