Chef Mike Lata – FIG, Charleston, SC and Coddled Sea Island Farm Egg with Stone Crab
Lata is committed to the local farmers, suppliers, and fishermen. “What happens in the kitchen is what ties us all together. Many of the farms would not exist without the support of the chefs.” He cites a story from one farm in particular, Keegan-Filion. Originally, they wanted to sell frozen chickens to the chefs since they had a smaller chicken operation and were only able to process their chickens twice a month. The chefs banded together and over a 6 month period, the farm was able to sell enough chickens that they could process and deliver them fresh weekly. He credits the Filions with being willing to diversify and work together.
FIG may have been the first restaurant to change its menu daily based on what was available. Lata has even been known to pull a dish or two from the menu in the middle of dinner service if it isn’t right. “Cooking is a craft. It is an art. Food should transcend the experience. The effort is on the best ingredients, but you also have to rely on putting it out hot, seasoned well and cooked properly all while being prepared in a chaotic environment.”
The time between the harvest and the plate is critical to this chef. “Every minute it is out of the ground, it is exponentially less dramatic.” He lets the ingredients tell him what to do. Is the kale tender enough to be a salad? If not, then it may need nothing more than a quick saute. “Conceptual and convoluted dishes and ideas make it more difficult.” He prefers rustic, very direct food. If you love beets, why would you want to taste anything besides the beet?
Lata says that his cooking straddles between two influences: the grand cuisine of Europe and his time spent in France along with the newer generation of cooking Americana. The Romantic ideas of peasant cooking in Nice and the Italian Riviera pull at his heartstrings, therefore, he cooks with the passion from that area which translates into his food. However, he says, “I also want to stay with what is relevant and where we are now. I want to be sure we are representing our region properly.” I don’t think there is any doubt that Lata and FIG are doing just that.
Thank you so much to Chef Lata for taking the time to meet with us. FIG is not to be missed when you travel to the Charleston area. It is a very special dining experience.
Chef Lata shared a recipe with me for my readers that exemplifies his talent for putting incredible flavors together using the best local ingredients, Coddled Sea Island Farm Egg with Stone Crab.
Use fresh, local organic eggs (as I did) in this recipe (unless, of course, you have access to Sea Island eggs). I happened to have Stone Crab Claws in the freezer from our visit with Kimberly of Kimberly’s Crabs in Charleston, but you can use lump crab meat that is available at your fishmonger. I substituted fresh Lady Peas for the English Peas, since they are no longer in season here. This was a beautiful dish that would be perfect for a brunch. Every bite was bursting with flavor from all of these wonderful ingredients.
If you have never been to Charleston or are interested in returning, On the Road culinary adventures will be going to Charleston in November. The details will be released shortly. We hope you will join us to experience this delightful city with it’s fabulous restaurants and culinary heritage!
* Top photo of Chef Lata is courtesy of FIG
Coddled Sea Island Farm Egg with Stone Crab
8 6-8oz ramekins or small cocottes
8 locally sourced eggs
1 pound picked fresh stone crab meat (you can substitute lump crab)
1 cup English peas, blanched (I substituted Lady peas that were cooked for about 10 minutes)
4 thin slices of country ham or prosciutto, julienned (I used prosciutto)
1 cup parmesan-truffle cream (recipe follows)
1 quart parsnip cream(recipe follows)
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon fresh snipped chives
I loaf of brioche, sliced and lightly toasted
1 cup heavy cream
2 oz piece parmesan rind
2 drops of black truffle oil
2 cups parsnips, peeled, diced
1 small leek, white part only, diced
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
Fresh bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
For Parmesan-Truffle Cream:
Combine all ingredients and simmer lightly for five minutes and let stand till cool. Strain, reserve.
For Parsnip cream:
Combine all ingredients and simmer very lightly until all ingredients are tender. Remove bay leaf and puree in blender until silky smooth. Place the parsnip mixture into a small pan and cover with plastic wrap. Keep warm.
Preheat oven to 325. Place the ramekins in a deep casserole and fill it up with hot water halfway up the sides. Put 2 ounces of parsnip cream into each ramekin. Crack a farm egg into a coffee cup or ramekin one at a time and slide it onto the parsnip cream. When all the eggs are in, place the casserole into the oven. The eggs should take about 8-10 minutes, they are finished when the white is firm and the yolk is runny. It is important not to leave the kitchen during this time. The eggs can go from perfect to overdone in a matter of seconds.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a nice sauté pan. Swirl it around over medium hat until it begins to foam up and brown. Add the picked stone crab, the peas and country ham. Warm through and season with salt and finish with the snipped chives.
When the eggs are done, divide the stone crab over the top of each mixture, top with the Parmesan-Truffle cream and sprinkle with a touch of sea salt. Serve with toasted brioche.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Mike Lata – FIG, Charleston, SC