[UPDATED] Charleston Bound: Interview with FIG’s Mike Lata

Mike Lata ( in front) with Wylie Dufresne making scrambled eggs at 5:00 a.m. at the FIG after party (2009 Charleston Food and Wine Festival via YouTube.)

UPDATE (3/5): See Matt’s iPhone photos and menu from last night’s dine around, here.

UPDATE (3/4): Per sous chef Matt: “FIG was great. Michael loved it. Chicken liver pate was a hit. Sweetbread ravioli awesome.”

Michael travels to Charleston, South Carolina today with sous chef Matt Hinckley for its Food and Wine Festival, where they will put out a dinner for 80 tomorrow night and a cooking demo and book signing on Saturday.

Part of the fun of doing events like this in other cities is connecting with their most inspired chefs and eating at their restaurants. In Charleston, Mike Lata is one of those chefs you want to spend time with. Like our Michael, Lata’s food is ingredient driven; he makes a strong commitment to work with local farmers, ranchers and suppliers who are dedicated to natural, sustainable agriculture. Michael and Matt will dine tonight at FIG at 8:30 (join me in a prayer for Michael’s live Tweets so we can all live vicariously,) the restaurant where Lata earned his James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2009. More on that later.

My mother and I ate there in 2007 when I was road-tripping my way home to Miami from New York City where I had spent four years living, working, and playing. We had an insane meal. What sticks in my mind still is a fresh vegetable salad he made that compelled us to ask for the chef to touch our table. It was a colorful hill of finely diced garden veggies wading in a white, wide-rimmed bowl of tomato consommé. He was able to get out of the kitchen and come over, and we were able to ask all sorts of questions like, how do we make this amazing salad at home??

Lata is such an A+ that when I wrote him last night at 5:22 p.m., probably right as a dinner service began full of chefs in town for the Festival — asking for a favor  no less — he came through. Here it goes (and Mike you have an open invitation to visit us, and we’ll take you around to some of our South Florida farms — and get you that MGFD meal, too.)

Hi Mike. Can you answer a few q’s for me ASAP? Sorry. I’m posting on Michael’s visit to Charleston tomorrow .. and it’s just way more interesting with your input :)

– how many years have you participated in CFWF?
We were involved from the inception.  i think we started talking about this in 2003 or 04…with the first year being 05

– favorite memory?
Making scrambled eggs with Johnny Iuzzini and Wylie Dufresne at 3am for a toasty crowd at FIG’s aftter party (you can see it on youtube)

– what chefs are you looking forward to reconnecting with or meeting for the first time at this festival?
Honestly Michael Schwartz is one of them this year.  I’ve heard so many good things…

– dish(es) you want michael to try tomorrow night when he eats at FIG?
He is going to eat everything.  I am especially proud of our seafood program so i’m sure he will be eating “Coastal”

– what should he drink?
He need to  start with one of our Negroni’s.  then at some point try a bottle of FIG’s propritary blend from Hirsch Vineyards “Clay Pigeon”. It was just released last week or so.

– what keeps you in charleston?
It’s the greatest City on the east coast(sorry Miami).  Perfect combination of savvy diners, tourism, great beaches, beautiful people, and an electric food and beverage scene.

– what other market would you like to own a restaurant in?
Asheville, NC, for lifestyle reasons.  It’s a great getaway from Charleston and we love to ride our motorcycles in the mountains!

– place abroad you call second home?
Nowhere yet, but i picture a remote beach and a hammock…

– michael kept his beard award in his pocket for a week. what did you do with yours?
I wore it around the house and made my girlfriend tell refer to me as James Beard award winning boyfriend, baby, asshole, or what ever other affectionate names she had for me.  The night I won?  There is a feeling that you have made it….and it cant be taken away(at least i hope i don’t set a precedent). For the first time in your career you don’t have to worry about politiking, impressing, or anything else…because you won the highest award in the industry. It meant that night was for me and who cares about anything else! I think i passed out in a bowl of gnudi at the Spotted Pig while talking to Sean Brock and David Kinch.

– anything you’re curious about re: miami?
I know MGFD ‘s concept is similar to FIGs. I would love to what sourcing is like in Miami. it would be fun to go and see some of Michaels purveyors and learn more about the food culture of Southern Florida

– eaten at mgfd and what? I tried to go when i came to the festival a couple of years ago, but i can in between brunch and dinner…no luck!

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