Chef Mike Lata and Jenni Ridall Share Their Lowcountry Christmas Menu

Across the harbor from Charleston, South Carolina, Mike Lata and Jenni Ridall enjoy dinner on the front porch, oysters all around, and a game plan that leaves time to savor the season.

Jenni Ridall and Mike Lata
Jenni and Mike (right) with their dog, Rocky. Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

"We're not cuckoo for Christmas decorations," explains chef Mike Lata, owner and culinary force behind FIG and The Ordinary restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. "We have friends who go deep, but that's not us." These are not the words of a grinch. While it's true that he and his wife, Jenni Ridall, can fit their combined collection of ornaments in one box, they wholeheartedly embrace the season in their own style. As you might imagine, that means devoting abundant attention to their menu.

After all, it was a passion for the pleasures of the table that brought them together. Lata moved to Charleston as a young chef in 1998 and then opened FIG in 2003 and The Ordinary in 2012. Ridall came to the industry later in life, after studying art history and then culinary technique at Le Cordon Bleu. They met when she applied for a job at FIG in February 2015. "Even before then, I was drawn to Mike's food and his aesthetic," she recalls.

Jenni Ridall and Mike Lata
Cozy Christmas Eve moments abound in front of the fire. Peter Frank Edwards

Ridall worked at FIG and The Ordinary as a culinary administrator, documenting endless variations of dishes, transcribing recipes written on napkins and in notebooks, and planning events. "We did one in Aspen, Colorado, for 600 people that was the hardest thing ever," Lata says. "Jenni's organization helped pull it off." In 2018, she struck out on her own to create TK Culinary Consulting and Test Kitchen, a culinary consulting business. The couple married in 2019, so their holiday rituals are still new and evolving. "Jenni brings strong family traditions to our relationship," Lata says. "She ignited my desire to play along and start creating our own Christmases that our children (9-year-old Henry and 1-year-old Oscar) would remember."

Mike Lata and Jenni Ridall's home for Christmas
Fresh decor nods to the season. Peter Frank Edwards

Their home on James Island, a quiet community across the harbor from Charleston, is an inspiring muse. The three-bedroom 1740s Dutch Colonial sits on a leafy, 2-acre property where Ridall forages for cypress, magnolia, and tea olive clippings to arrange around the windows, on the porch, and on the mantels of five fireplaces.

The fragrant greens and simple adornments (glowing votives, sage green tapers, and stemmed wineglasses) create a welcoming table on the front porch, where they'll serve a feast on Christmas Eve. From Lowcountry Fish Stew to Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress, their smart, seasonal menu is designed with plenty of do-ahead components.

Planning is everything, Lata emphasizes. "We don't just dream up these meals," he says. "We give a lot of thought to organizing because who wants to be in the weeds at home?" That means when Ridall's family arrives from Atlanta (along with a tumble of young kids), there's nothing to do but uncork a bottle of cold white Burgundy, watch the happy chaos unfold, and toast to a job well done. "We celebrate the real blessing that is our family," Lata says.

Lata and Ridall's Holiday Menu

01 of 06

Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress

Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress
Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw

Recipe: Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress

Some advance preparation helps keep things simple on Christmas Eve. Make the mushroom stuffing ahead and refrigerate. Assemble the day of and finish in the oven. Serve on a bed of rock salt for a dazzling presentation.

02 of 06

Chopped Chicken Livers on Toast

Chopped Chicken Livers on Toast
Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw

Recipe: Chopped Chicken Livers on Toast

Think of this as chicken salad made with livers. The dressing gets a kick from whole-grain mustard, and bacon adds a nice crunch. Serve on buttered toast.

03 of 06

Winter Greens Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette

Winter Greens Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette
Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw

Recipe: Winter Greens Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette

Hearty winter greens, mint, and a rich vinaigrette come together to wow. Toasted walnuts and infused oil take the dressing to the next level.

04 of 06

Lowcountry Fish Stew

Mike Lata's Lowcountry Fish Stew
Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw

Recipe: Lowcountry Fish Stew

Make the broth in advance for a fish stew that comes together quickly on Christmas Eve. Anise-flavored liqueur and saffron threads add a special touch to this twist on French bouillabaisse.

05 of 06

Carolina Gold Rice Middlins

Carolina Gold Rice Middlins
Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw

Recipe: Carolina Gold Rice Middlins

For a side dish you can't mess up, turn to Carolina Gold Rice, named for the fields' golden hues just before harvest. This rice has a slightly chewy consistency.

06 of 06

Grammy Rolls

Jenni Ridall's Grammy Rolls
Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw

Recipe: Grammy Rolls

Prepare these on Christmas Eve and serve warm on Christmas morning. A version of monkey bread, this recipe came from Ridall's grandmother. Read about the recipe's story and family tradition here.

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