Because the media spotlight shines primarily on big cities, impressive culinary talent elsewhere is often overlooked. Consider, for example, Mike Davis, the chef/owner of Terra in Columbia, SC. Like many of his big-city counterparts, Davis is driven to use the best locally grown and raised ingredients. So committed is he that Davis will use only ingredients from South Carolina, if possible. During a recent Slow Food benefit at Terra, the 34-year-old chef showcased a dish — pan-seared flounder with a South Carolina peach and green tomato relish and Adluh stone-ground grits — in which nearly every ingredient had been produced within a 15 mile radius of Terra.
His menu is a testament to the fact that South Carolina food can go far beyond the barbecue it's know for (though he does offer an amazing gratin of mac & cheese stuffed with barbecue lamb shoulder). For Davis, it's all about fresh, like his crispy Wil-Moor Farms chicken served with asparagus, fingerling potatoes and wild mushrooms. It's simple, clean food that honors his James Beard Award-winning mentors, chefs Frank Stitt (Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, AL) and Susan Spicer (Bayona and Cobalt, New Orleans).
Davis' food is decidedly down-home Southern, but prepared with big-city sophistication. Earlier this year at a benefit, he offered a smoked trout hoecake with Granny Smith Apple, arugula and radish. Clearly, he is off the beaten path and away from the media's bright lights, but cooking like his suggests he's more than a few steps closer to the garden than most. And that's a good thing.