Jason Stanhope, Executive Chef
James Beard Foundation Award winner, Best Chef: Southeast, 2015
Growing up in Topeka, Kansas, Jason Stanhope’s experience with great cuisine was reserved for special occasions. For his family, the ritual of cooking and eating together was more important than what was on the table, which helped fuel his life-long obsession with sourcing the highest quality ingredients. Cooking with his family also instilled the desire to put on a great show every night and make guests feel like they are a part of the restaurant family, which is a founding principle of his culinary philosophy.
Stanhope moved to San Francisco to pursue a culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu, and fell in love with the kitchen immediately. During this time, he had the chance to work in Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru, for Michael Raas, where he seized every opportunity, including one to fill in for the fish cook at Hotel Monasterio. The former Division II college football player moved back to the U.S. to work with James Beard award-winning chef Debbie Gold at Forty Sardines in Kansas City. While on a vacation to Charleston, Stanhope fell for the city and its rich epicurean history, and decided to move East and join the team at Mike Lata’s acclaimed FIG, where he has worked his way through the kitchen, starting as chef-tournant to his current position of executive chef, which earned him the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2015.
Working side-by-side with Lata during his six-year tenure taught Stanhope the restaurant’s timeless philosophies, including how to write a menu: start with the best possible ingredients and products available and then create dishes from there. By creating new dishes using ingredients and products thoughtfully sourced from local farmers and purveyors who are meticulous about their standards, Stanhope also upholds FIG’s philosophy of serving cuisine that is relevant, approachable, sensible, technically driven, and seasonally inspired. Some of FIG’s long-standing relationships include sourcing fish from Mark Marhefka; eggs, dairy, beef and pork from Celeste Albers; and heirloom vegetables from Pete Ambrose or Greg Johnsman of Geechee Boy Market and Mill. A leader in the farm-to-table movement since opening over ten years ago, FIG pays homage to the bounty of the Lowcountry region by offering a daily changing menu that is honest and straightforward.
“At FIG, we continue to build and maintain the repertoire that Mike Lata created, and working from that repertoire is like cooking out of my favorite cookbook every day,” says Stanhope. “We are committed to offering many of the signature dishes that everyone has come to know and love, like the gnocchi, tomato tart and chicken liver pate, and our goal is to continually execute them flawlessly and with the highest quality ingredients, while developing new signature dishes, like our razor clams or house-made pasta that’s hand-rolled, pinched or cut. We want our guests to feel welcome, enchanted by our service and cuisine, and, most importantly, we want them to feel great the next morning because of the quality of ingredients they ate the night before. That is how we go from great to memorable.”
Some of Stanhope’s current favorites include Salad of Nine Spring Vegetables with Caesar dressing and rye crisp; Marinated Razor Clams with golden raisins and pine nuts; and Spaghetti with stone crab and bottarga.
“Charleston’s farms, fisherman and purveyors provide us with an embarrassment of riches,” says Stanhope. “By using ingredients at their peak, preparing them simply and with respect to honor their integrity, we are able to capture the essence of the season.”