As families across the country shelter in place, home cooking has become more important than ever, be it pantry-clean-out dinners or long-put-off projects. With sudden time on their hands, professional chefs, too, are keeping busy in the kitchen. Like many others, Mike Lata, chef-partner of the Charleston institutions FIG and the Ordinary, turned his attention to an activity sweeping the nation during self-quarantine: the making of homemade sourdough.
“In the real world, there’s simply no way we’d be able to spend this much time making bread,” says Lata of the multi-day process, which he worked on while isolating at home in Charleston with his wife, Jenni, and eight-year-old son, Henry. “As a chef, bread making is by no means foreign to me, but in the past, I was always more of a brioche guy. Having to nurture a starter every day is a whole different ball game.”
The Latas adapted their sourdough recipe from San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, where the now widely used method of baking the bread in a cast-iron Dutch oven originated (you can find the Smithey version Lata uses here). With a few small adjustments—the addition of Jimmy Red cornmeal to the dough and a dusting of benne seed—the bread takes on a distinctly Lowcountry quality, perfect for griddled sandwiches or savoring straight from the loaf. “The sourdough is great many ways, but I’m partial to a BLT,” Lata says. “We’re also getting creative with our leftovers—just throw a few slices of bread in a skillet with some butter and whatever you have on hand. We had some braised pork shoulder left over from dinner that I sliced up for crisp, crackly Cuban sandwiches the next day.”
Influx of baked goods aside, Lata and his clan are looking for the positives. “The blessing in disguise is how much family time I’ve been able to spend with Henry and Jenni, who’s expecting,” Lata says. “As uncomfortable as this moment might be, we’re all just trying to make the best of it.” As for new cooking projects on the horizon, the chef and his family are still expanding their gluten repertoire. “The natural progression seems to be from sourdough to pizza dough. We’ve already had a few pizza nights, which has been a lot of fun. We’re also suckers for a good egg sandwich, so we’re embarking on bagel-making next.”
Cast-Iron Dutch Oven by Smithey Ironware Co. Shop Smithey Ironware’s Dutch oven at Fieldshop by Garden & Gun.