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.

Advertisement
Jenni Ridall and Mike Lata
Jenni and Mike (right) with their dog, Rocky
| Credit: 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.
| Credit: 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 Test Kitchen, a culinary consulting business. The couple married in 2019, so their holiday rituals are 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.
| Credit: 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.

Mike Lata and Jenni Ridall's Alfresco Holiday Table
Mike Lata and Jenni Ridall's Holiday Table Setting
Left: Mild winters make alfresco dining doable. | Credit: Peter Frank Edwards
Right: Greenery foraged from the property creates a festive (and free) table runner. | Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

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.

Mike Lata in the kitchen seasoning his Lowcountry Fish Stew
Mike Lata Seasoning his Chopped Chicken Livers on Toast
Left: Lata seasons the seafood stew. | Credit: Peter Frank Edwards
Right: Freshly grated horseradish gives the toasts a spicy finish. | Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

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

Related Items

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

Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress

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

Chopped Chicken Livers on Toast

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

Winter Greens Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette

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

Lowcountry Fish Stew

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

Carolina Gold Rice Middlins

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

Grammy Rolls

For Christmas morning, Ridall serves these warm rolls. Get the recipe and story about this family tradition here.