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Feast Your Eyes

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Contributing photographer Peter Frank Edwards captures and creates some magic at the home of FIG chef Mike Lata. Photographs by Megan Rowley

September 21, 2011

Feast Your Eyes
Get a glimpse behind the scenes of Mike Lata’s sustainable seafood dinner party

Written by Brys Stephens

If you had to guess the mood around the dinner table during the caviar-studded seafood feast at Mike Lata’s house featured in this month’s issue of Charleston, “really silly” probably wouldn’t be your first guess. But as it turns out, getting slaphappy about the (necessarily) somewhat contrived nature of a photo shoot is a good way to conjure up a smile for the camera. It’s pretty much impossible to get great shots without multiple takes, so repetition during a shoot like this is par for the course, and sets a funny mood.

“And, we’re smiling as if we haven’t done this five times already,” photographer Peter Frank Edwards would say, camera in hand, while Lata’s girlfriend, Emilee Cleary, would gaze lovingly into the chef’s eyes—again—while graciously accepting a cocktail from him.

Before the action started, a lot of hard work went into putting the dinner and shoot together. There were weeks of planning by editor-in-chief Darcy Shankland and her team, along with prep work and sourcing by Lata at FIG. But even with all that, Lata’s award-winning culinary skill and Edwards’ experience with this kind of shoot, documenting a dinner party is a lot more work than just having one.

Events unfold on the fly. Some things, like cracking open a baked salt-encrusted fish, can happen only once. Plates have to be made and re-made. And guests end up lingering at the table for a long time without food, which may not be piping hot when it finally arrives. But when it came down to it, whether Lata was sliding the beautifully arranged salt encrusted fish into the oven, pulling perfectly coddled eggs out of the oven, or garnishing friends’ dinner plates with sautéed cherry tomatoes—all the while with Edwards directing and hovering—you could tell this was familiar territory for the James Beard Award-winning chef.

Mike and Emilee like to keep things easy going anyway, and thankfully their friends were all appreciative, patient, and fun. The negronis, champagne, and spoonfuls of high-quality caviar straight from the container didn’t hurt, either.

As the writer for this piece, I felt like I had it better than anybody, at least on the day of the shoot. I got to arrive early, hang out in the kitchen with Mike, and talk to him about everything from his cooking memories growing up, to our common experiences in Nice, France, to how many anchovies went into the tonnato sauce, all the while pretending like I was helping him in the kitchen. I even got to stay on after the shoot for more drinks, spoonfuls of caviar, and good conversation—not a bad gig at all.

To read Brys’ “A Seafood Feast” article and get Lata’s recipes, click here.

To view the photo gallery, click here.

For more food and entertaining articles, click here.