Eat, Drink, and Be Married

For a chef and his bride, good food and close friends are the recipe for a party to remember

photo: Marni Rothschild

Cleary and Lata share a moment and a meal to themselves.

When it came to  wedding planning, Mike Lata and Emilee Cleary followed a philosophy that’s worked well at both of Lata’s award-winning restaurants. “Honestly, we just approached it like Mike approaches food,” Cleary says. “We had good ingredients.”

For Cleary and Lata, who is chef and co-owner of Charleston, South Carolina’s FIG and the Ordinary, those ingredients included Boone Hall, a 333-year-old plantation along Wampacheone Creek; close friends; music with a Southern slant; and, Cleary adds, “good booze.” The couple set a laid-back tone for their early fall wedding from the start, presenting guests with mason jars of bourbon punch when they disembarked from the circa 1957 school bus (read: no air-conditioning) that they’d chartered to transport attendees. 

Then there was the food. Lata initially pegged his friend and FIG’s then chef de cuisine Jason Stanhope as the event cook. “And then I thought he might want to enjoy himself,” Lata says. Inspiration struck when Lata and Cleary had dinner at the home of Callie White, an accomplished caterer whose name graces a line of gourmet biscuits. White’s slow-cooked lamb shoulder, roasted carrots with strained Greek yogurt, and a fava bean spread with dill aligned perfectly with the couple’s vision of a rustic wedding meal that reflected the simple elegance Lata enjoyed while living and cooking in the South of France.

Though the couple met in Charleston, both hail from New England, and the celebration represented many of the guests’ first exposure to what Cleary calls “the sultry South.” For a warm welcome, White

Caterer Callie White's crab hush puppies.

photo: Marni Rothschild

Caterer Callie White’s crab hush puppies.

supplemented the menu with swordfish, fried quail, and an array of salads, arranged at stations around the creek-side dock house that served as the reception hall. Her Southern appetizers included crab hush puppies, ham biscuits, and fried oysters, along with one simple request from the couple: tomato sandwiches on white bread. “Fall tomatoes were in peak season,” Lata says.

Other friends chipped in too. Pastry chef Kelly Kleisner, a former employee of Lata’s, made the cake—a flavor-crammed concoction of red velvet pastry, vanilla buttercream, and chocolate ganache (Lata dubbed it a “stoner cake”). Julian Van Winkle, president of the distillery that makes Pappy Van Winkle, contributed a couple of bottles from his private stash, which ranks pretty high on the best-wedding-gifts list. “It helped with the vows,” Lata jokes.

Immediately following the garden ceremony, White’s staff prepared plates so Lata, in a suit by Billy Reid, and Cleary, wearing a silk-chiffon-and-lace Jenny Packham dress, could share a meal alone together. “They set us out of sight for twenty minutes,” Lata recalls. “I don’t know if we tasted the food or even thought about it. There was a lot going on.” That included music from a bluegrass band, joined onstage at one point by Cleary’s father and his harmonica. To close the show, Lata played guitar on the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.”

The couple bids adieu to their guests.

photo: Marni Rothschild

The couple bids adieu to their guests.

For their getaway car, the couple rented a 1950 Dodge Meadowbrook. But even the best exit strategies don’t always pan out. “It made it about two hundred yards,” says Lata, who pushed the car to the side of the road—just as it started to rain. Luckily, the bus was right behind them, filled with guests who were sure the whole thing had been staged. So they hitched a ride, ending the night on an old party bus among friends.