Mike Davis, Terra (Columbia, SC)

 photo : Sean Rayford

photo : Sean Rayford

At this stage in the game, Terra Restaurant in Columbia, SC, is an institution -- but that doesn’t mean that it’s staid. Go there any night and you’ll find that you’re walking into the best that a neighborhood bistro can be. Multiple members of the staff have been there for years, the menu rotates seasonally, and the seats are filled with people who know all of this, often greeting each other and the staff like old friends, ready to have a great meal composed of what is best and brightest from local purveyors. This environment is all because of Chef Mike Davis, who opened Terra in 2006, definitely ahead of the curve in Columbia. He simply did things the way he’d been taught, the way he felt was best, and through that, built a restaurant that focuses on flavor and treating his staff and guests like family. In this episode, Davis basically gives us a primer on how to build a farm-to-table restaurant. He touches on collaboration, menu building, sourcing, and his sources of inspiration of course, which include some of the South’s best chefs whom he cooked under before opening his own place. He’s one of those guys that makes all this look easy, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that keeps him ever focused on his craft.

Episode 105 ›

 

 

Rodney Scott, Rodney Scott's BBQ (Charleston, SC)

 Photo: andrew cebulka

Photo: andrew cebulka

There was a time when how good Rodney Scott’s family barbecue was was pretty much a locals secret. Unless you were lucky enough to meet him at a food event or lived in Hemingway, SC, you probably didn’t know about him, that is unless you were the kind of people who roadtrip for good food. So yeah, you and me. Chances are, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’ll drive for good food, right? Anyway, the chorus of praises for this barbecue pitmaster have been steadily rising, and word began to get out in a big way, including on TV with Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. Then Rodney fulfilled his dream of opening a restaurant of his own last year in Charleston. As for the food, it’s simple perfection, made with love, as he continually preaches. His smile can light up a room, too, and on Monday evening, he proved that when he stood on stage in Chicago to accept the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast. A few days before he jetted off to those awards, I caught up with him at his restaurant to learn what he’s learned in the last year. In true Southern Fork style, we ended up recording in the cab of his truck in the parking lot. Anytime he’s in the building, he’s either working or people are literally standing in line to talk to him, so outside is where we found some time and quiet.

Episode 106 >

Micah LeMon, The Alley Light (Charlottesville, VA)

 photo: courtesy of u of VA press

photo: courtesy of u of VA press

I think Micah LeMon, bar manager at the James Beard Award–nominated Alley Light in Charlotttesville, VA, wants us to slow down and take a beat, probably over a lovely, stirred cocktail in a fancy glass. On the day we recorded a few months ago, I was at high-energy, just starting Charleston Wine + Food, and I went and collected Micah from the book signing tent to have a chat. Despite all the people buzzing about (literally and figuratively) and despite the fact I chose a room at the Embassy Suites next to the hotel kitchen -- aka, you’ll hear all kinds of ambient noise in this one, including a vacuum down the hallway -- Micah was cool and calm like he’d just left a yoga retreat. We soon delved deep into a chat about cocktails and balance of flavors, and he proved that he really has a scholar’s encyclopedic knowledge of the ingredients he uses and makes. That is fascinating, sure, and there’s lots to learn from him here, but beyond that, probably the main lesson he can teach us is that following passion -- in his case, the combination of ingredients and spirits -- can create doors where there once were none. Charlottesville is not really seen a cocktail-culture stronghold, and yet, the Alley Light has a fervent and loyal cult following. It you stir it, they will come, eh, Micah?

Episode  107 >