“It’s funny how your priorities shift when you’re not caught up in minutia,” Chef Jason Stanhope says. “It’s not just ‘Is that fish cooked perfectly?’ it’s ‘Is the person who is cooking that fish happy, and is their happiness affecting how they cook?'” This is a foundational principle at FIG, where Jason, the James Beard award winner for Best Chef in the Southeast, is the Executive Chef under Chef Mike Lata.
Jason got his culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, which is where he says he fell in love with cooking. But it wasn’t until he went to Peru to cook under Chef Michael Raas in Cusco and Machu Picchu that he fell in love with food. “Working in Peru, I realized how good a single bean or potato could be,” he says.
While excellent ingredients and simply prepared fresh foods are a hallmark of the Charleston culinary scene, the idea of building a great restaurant by investing in the happiness of the staff is not. As a former Division II football player, Jason’s vested interest in a team performing at it’s best comes from the heart. His staff is knowledgeable but unpretentious, and he sees to it that they have everything they need to be good at their jobs and enjoy their lives. “We all keep it to five days a week,” he says. “People who work too much can’t make good decisions.” He doesn’t mention that those five days are actually five, 14-hour days, yet it seems to be working for them. Jason is chilled out and happy, as is the rest of the staff.
“I’ve literally spent 25 percent of my life in these walls,” he says of working at FIG. “If you find somewhere where your morals and philosophy line up, there’s your home.”
Words by Robin Howard
Photo by Andrew Cebulka