At Charleston’s FIG executive chef Jason Stanhope has worked with chef-owner Mike Lata in creating a menu that honors the Lowcountry through locally sourced ingredients raised with as much care as the chefs put into cooking them. That care in dishes like housemade tagliolini with morels or a fish stew with mussels, shrimp, squid, and Carolina Gold rice with rouille-earned Stanhope the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2015. (“Carolina Gold rice,” Stanhope says, “speaks to my soul.”)
The Topeka, Kansas-born Stanhope once played Division II college football at Washburn University. But he gave up the gridiron for the grill (and much more) when he switched to a cooking program at San Francisco’s Le Cordon Bleu. While doing an externship at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio, in Cusco, Peru, with Chef Michael Raas, Stanhope had a moment of awakening about what the quality of ingredients meant to his cooking. “Working in Peru, I realized how good a single bean or potato could be,” he says. He also had a moment of truth when he had to unexpectedly fill in for one of the hotel’s fish cooks, and he handled it like a pro. All that teamwork training in college football comes in handy with a kitchen full of cooks at dinner rush.
Returning to his home state, Stanhope cooked at Kansas City’s Forty Sardines with chefs Michael Smith and Debbie Gold. In 2008, he joined Mike Lata at FIG as a chef-tournant, and brought it on with Lata on Iron Chef America in 2010. Now, as executive chef, Stanhope continues to raise the bar, bringing the spirit of sharing the family meal he grew up with in Kansas to a community hungry for great food.