You could say Chef Mike Davis was born a locavore. Growing up on his family’s Alabama farm meant fresh foods were the rule. While that’s something a child might take for granted, access to locally sourced products is the driving force behind Davis’ chosen career. As executive chef of Terra, one of Columbia’s most notable dining establishments, Davis applied his family’s farm-to-table tradition to define the restaurant’s focus and create for himself a reputation for fresh, innovative dishes.
When he opened Terra in 2006, Davis made his mark by being at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement in Columbia. His menu has long been inspired by what’s seasonal, be it fresh catch from South Carolina waters, a batch of just-picked heirloom peas or country ham from a local farm. All it takes is one perfect, locally sourced food to trigger Davis’ hallmark creativity in the kitchen.
Like many chefs, Davis' interest in kitchen craft had humble beginnings. "I was a dishwasher," he said. "I learned that it's important to have respect for everyone in the restaurant, from the servers and bartenders to dishwashers and line cooks." After graduating with a business degree from the University of Alabama, Davis made his way to Johnson & Wales in Charleston to begin his formal training for a culinary career. Studying in a city that is home to a host of accomplished chefs enabled him to get some stellar on-the-job experience, specifically at Magnolia’s where he worked under the tutelage of chefs Donald Barrickman and Don Drake. He further honed his skills with stints in New Orleans and eventually snagged a coveted sous-chef position at Chez Fon Fon in Birmingham, working under one of the South’s finest, Chef Frank Stitt. Working with the masters to learn the fine points of cooking expertise was a boon for Davis. With solid kitchen skills and a firm appreciation for fresh foods, he was ready to strike out on his own with the opening of Terra. Since then, Davis has collected an array of honors, including television appearances, radio interviews on NPR, an invitation to cook at the James Beard House, guest appearances at food festivals and the designation of “Best Chef” multiple times by readers of Columbia’s Free Times.