Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary
Photos by Andrew Cebulka, Peter Frank Edwards, Lindsey Harris Shorter, and Gately Williams, courtesy of FIG

Resy QuestionnaireCharleston

20 Questions with Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary


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In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite cookbook? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?

In this edition, we spoke to Mike Lata, the chef and co-owner behind FIG and The Ordinary, critically acclaimed and all-around beloved Charleston darlings that sing of the Lowcountry.

The Resy Questionnaire

1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?

So, I’m not a huge fan of “favorite” questions … So definitive and devoid of context! I pursue cooking in the moment — seasonality, quality, and geography, linked together, can redefine how you experience any meal. For example, I remember a salad that I made in the fall in Piedmont, Italy with radicchio, porcini, tonnato, and a traditional local preparation of rabbit preserved like tuna that perfectly captured the essence of that time and place.

I’m similarly fond of the tomato-okra gumbo that we make in the summertime in Charleston with sweet local shrimp. Okra and tomatoes pop up at the height of shrimp season, when the shrimp are full of roe, and it’s a quintessential Lowcountry dish — nowhere else does that dish make sense the way it does here.

FIG black bass
Black bass at FIG. Photo by Lindsey Harris Shorter, courtesy of FIG
FIG black bass
Black bass at FIG. Photo by Lindsey Harris Shorter, courtesy of FIG

2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?

Great pots and pans are a must. Good cast iron, copper, and carbon steel. Think Smithey, Made In, and Le Creuset.

3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?

Good olive oil, butter, soy sauce, fleur de sel, and lemons. (And I’ll hope there are eggs there, so I can make my own mayonnaise!)

4. What’s your favorite place to get fried seafood in Charleston?

What matters most to me is the quality of the fish and how soon after it’s fried I get to eat it. My friend and local captain Mark Marhefka will sometimes host pop-ups using his line-caught day boat fish, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example.

5. Favorite cookbook?

A Return to Cooking,” by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman. So original and inspired. Michael swears it was mostly spontaneous, which further affirms my love for it.

6. Your drink of choice?

My first cup of black coffee in the morning makes me so happy.

7. Favorite food movie?

“Big Night” came out when I was in my 20’s and very impressionable. It was so perfect for me at that time — and a true classic. My wife Jenni and I recently watched “The Taste of Things” and absolutely loved it. Food and romance go hand in hand, and they nailed both.


8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive? 

Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, Roger Vergé, Joël Robuchon, and Julia Child.

9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?

There’s a long list, however the first person that comes to mind is Daniel Boulud. I find him to be gracious, charismatic, generous, incredibly talented (goes without saying), youthful, and full of joy.

10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?

Mystery and surprise is a big part of the restaurant experience. As you get older and experience more, it’s not so easy to have your mind blown. When I was 25 years old, I dined at Restaurant Alain Ducasse. I bribed my way into the restaurant using a bag of grits that I had ground myself just before my flight to Paris. It was so grand and opulent. They were shaving truffles and there was chicken cooked in pigs bladder … I’d never seen anything like it in my entire life. Or since!

FIG salad
FIG salad. Photo by Lindsey Harris Shorter, courtesy of FIG
Melon at FIG
Melon at FIG. Photo by Lindsey Harris Shorter, courtesy of FIG

11. Your greatest professional achievement?

FIG and The Ordinary have over 30 years between them. Standing in front of the teams that we’ve built in our restaurants is the greatest reward that we could ask for. Restaurants are all about teamwork and I’m constantly inspired by the passion and dedication of the people that choose to work with us.

12. What single dish best describes your personality?

Steak tartare. It’s classic, not too precious, but a little bit fussy, and requires attention to detail. Some people love it … but it’s not for everybody.

13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?

La Merenda in Nice, France. I had one meal there in 2001 and it single-handedly defined my trajectory as a chef.

14. Your favorite meal from childhood?

No contest: cabbage pierogies.

15. What is your wish for the restaurant industry?

An eager, passionate, copious labor pool! It’s the only thing holding us back.

16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?

What I do well: Finding the best product and, in turn, managing my inventory. We pull the walk-in daily to make sure that all the ingredients are exemplary. I’m a very good multitasker and I’m excellent at micromanaging, which is actually needed in kitchens.

What I don’t do well: Letting go. The details keep me motivated. If I’m a little out of touch, I feel less effective.

FIG spread
Photo by Lindsey Harris Shorter, courtesy of FIG
FIG spread
Photo by Lindsey Harris Shorter, courtesy of FIG

17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?


18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?

Seafood. Often it’s the most expensive thing on the menu, but if it’s fresh and local, I have to try it.

19. What do you value most in restaurants?

When everything syncs up — the vibe, the service, the food. When they are true to themselves and there is a well-executed, digestible point of view.

20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?

A McDonald’s Egg McMuffin from 1985, back when they griddled and buttered the English muffin to order.


Noëmie Carrant is Resy’s senior writer. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.