A couple of years ago, co-owner and executive chef Mike Lata had a former assistant interview all of the cooks at FIG and The Ordinary to see why they chose to work there and why they wanted to work in a kitchen in the first place.
"The answer from all of them was they want(ed) to learn," says Lata, who's promoted Tori Schumacher to chef de cuisine at The Ordinary after the recent departure of Carlton "Vandy" Vanderwarker.
With Schumacher's promotion, Lata is looking to transform The Ordinary's kitchen into one that has more learning opportunities for cooks interested in working their way up. "We've always been a teaching kitchen," he says. "But we're putting that front and center."
Lata says Schumacher is ready for a leadership role because of his steady temperament and the amount of time he's spent in high-end professional kitchens.
"He's a very experienced cook, who was not in a creative role at all here (as sous chef)," he says, adding that he could tell that Schumacher had a lot more to offer. "It just made sense. He's the first guy I’ve seen in a while that I think that we can have a great mentor/mentee relationship."
Schumacher has worked at The Ordinary for a little more than three years, hired on the recommendation of chef Ben Barker of the now-closed Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C. Lata also hired Barker's other recommendation, Caitlin McCormick, who is now Schumacher's wife and the pastry chef at FIG. The two moved to Charleston together after working in San Francisco where Schumacher was a sous chef at Gary Danko.
Promoting from within, Lata says, is important because of the kitchen culture, which takes a long time to instill, but it also reflects his approach to management these days.
"It might be counterintuitive to what I used to think," he admits. "I used to make them work for a year and have them become an expert at their station. They'd spend thousands of hours in that one spot."
He also remembers a time, especially after he won the James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Chef-Southeast at FIG, when he could fire a cook for whatever reason and have that person replaced in less than an hour.
It's a different story today where even his award-winning restaurants are feeling the staffing shortage that's hitting the industry nationwide.
"It’s a challenge, but I don’t feel too beat up about it," he says. "But the labor issue has become a big part of how we manage our business and develop resumes and focus on retention."
Lata says to expect Schumacher to infuse the menu with his own dishes and creativity in the coming months.
New items are already showing up by virtue of Lata spending so much time in The Ordinary's kitchen and introducing some of his own new ideas. He recently introduced a dish called tete de poisson, made with the meat of braised fish heads and served with pickled tomatoes and tartar sauce.