This March, acclaimed chef and industry leader Mike Lata received Spoleto’s 2023 Mary Ramsay Civic Award, which recognizes extraordinary contributions of civic and charitable leadership within the Charleston community. As the co-owner and chef of FIG and The Ordinary, Lata has shaped Charleston’s culinary landscape, cementing our city’s position as a top destination while championing our region’s foodways, farmers, and fishermen. He has also been an outsize supporter of Spoleto, contributing both time and resources to further Spoleto’s mission and helping to raise more than $350,000 in support of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.
Why does he do it? “I’ve felt support from the Festival since day one,” Lata says. “Charles Wadsworth [Spoleto’s Founding Artistic Director of Chamber Music] came when we first opened and he quickly became a fixture, bringing in all kinds of musicians. The word got out. When we first opened in 2003, Charleston had some slower times of the year—Spoleto was like our super bowl week of the year. We’d have to build up our endurance for longer service and bigger days, and the uptick was a major boost to our revenue. On the other side of the table, the performers, producers, designers—you name it—showed us such love. Everyone that is part of the Festival made us feel like were were part of that magic.”
Fast forward 20 years (and quite a few James Beard accolades) later, and it can be a little tricky to get a table at FIG and Lata’s newer haunt, The Ordinary—two restaurants which remain at the zenith of culinary dining experiences. Ahead of the Mary Ramsay Civic Award luncheon—and ahead of the2023 season—we asked Chef Lata for some advice: What foods would he pair with particular performances? Check out his answers below.
Quick take: Samuel Barber’s lush opera about love and longing, set in a 1950s’ ornate, North American countryside manor steeped in intrigue.
Chef’s recommendation: “For this, I’m thinking classy-continental with a mid-century vibe… Lobster thermidor and foie gras. Let’s be really opulent and add champagne and caviar service. Or a chateaubriand Beef Wellington.”
Performance: Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible
Quick take: A “blazing interpretation” of Arthur Miller’s seminal play about the Salem witch trials, set en pointe.
Chef’s recommendation: “I’m from Salem, so I can really taste the Northeast Coast with this production. Add in the time period, plus an English influence, and I’m thinking: stews. Clam chowder, fish chowder. Also baked cod: simple, rustic, but it matches with a sloppy, chaotic environment with jagged edges.”
Performance: Nickel Creek
Quick take: A progressive blend of acoustic Americana, roots, folk—“newgrass” at its best and most original.
Chef’s recommendation: “You know, Chris Thile comes into The Ordinary when he’s in town—he gorges himself on seafood towers. We’ve had some fun interactions. But in thinking about food and music reflecting a sense of place, and in thinking about Americana, my mind immediately goes to Appalachia. For these concerts I’m going with country ham, biscuits and gravy. Lots of fried chicken, beans, apple stack cakes, fried green tomatoes.”
Performance: Gravity & Other Myths – Out of Chaos
Quick take: An adrenaline rush from start to finish, this US premiere from Australia’s top circus arts troupe pushes physicality to the brink.
Chef’s recommendation: “I’m hearing innovative and avant-garde, but orchestrated, choreographed. It sounds like you’ve got to have a super tight team, people who are so specialized and know how to logistically push those limits. It reminds me of a meal at El Bulli in Spain, which, before it closed, offered a 45-course dinner—a showcase in molecular gastronomy. It was an entire range of emotions in one dinner, and the way the team made it all work was pure theater. I remember beet caviar, cocktails that were made into foods—like a mojito baguette, a frozen raspberry that tasted like a negroni. Really interesting bites to push the envelope and knock people off their axis.”