On most days at Lana Restaurant, you will find Chef John Ondo on the front kitchen line — right where he likes it. No matter if it’s lunch or dinner, he’s there, making sure the plates are perfect before they hit the table, visiting with guests, and always working to prep for the next service.
John excels at managing a bustling kitchen, and he believes it all starts with the prep. The kitchen prepares two types of bread made daily, five daily gelato flavors, and various meat stocks, sauces and stews.
As chef/owner of Lana Restaurant, he’s spent the last six years refining Lana’s rustic approach to refined Mediterranean cuisine, interpreted through local ingredients, a respect for the basic elements of the dish, and the adventurous spirit that informs the tasting menus and seasonal changes.
A Charleston native, John has been cooking since he was a child in his grandmothers’ kitchens, aggravating them to “help.” Though his studies at Trident Technical College, and his front-line work at well-known Charleston restaurants such as McCrady’s, Carolina’s and Il Cortile del Re, he has honed his unique approach to food that is at once elegant, comforting and satisfying.
Lana Restaurant is a culmination of all that he’s learned so far, and the perfect plate to expand his culinary imagination.
Our Interview With John Ondo
Are you from Charleston?
Yes I am from Charleston
When did you first know that you wanted to be a chef?
I guess when I was in my early teens but even as a child I loved to be in the kitchen probably getting in someone’s way
When you’re designing a complete meal, what factors do you take into account? How do you achieve harmony/balance?
I try to make sure the meal has a balance to it. Same ingredients I’ll try to make sure they compliment each other and stay in one region or theme.
What is your favorite food memory?
Ive got a lot of them. Whether it be eating crabs we caught as kids on a picnic table in the back yard or dinner at August with my wife. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite because they are all special.
Where did you train?.., and how difficult was your training?
I apprenticed for 4 years under Roland Gilg at Beaumonts in Charleston. Then I went to Charleston Culinary Institute. Both had their varying degrees of difficulty.
Who did you learn the most about cooking from, and what was the most useful thing they taught you?
Roland Gilg to be patient and to respect the ingredients where it comes from who it comes from
How do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere meals I’ve had cookbooks I’ve read people’s memories of things they have eaten
Funniest kitchen incident?
when a cook wasn’t looking where he was going and did not realize the manhole cover was off of the grease trap and he walked right into it
Favorite foods to cook with?
Tomatoes basically anything grown in the summer
Best cooking tip for a novice just getting into cooking?
be patient and understand that you will make a mistake every now and again, do not get discouraged push yourself to try the harder recipes
Do you have a favorite wine used with your cooking?
Are there any foods you just don’t like?
Eggplant, Eggplant did I mention eggplant
Botega Favorita The SilverSpoon, Pickles Pigs and Whiskey
Name three great wines you love to drink.
Red, white, and rose
Who in the food world do you most admire?
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
Hopefully still running my restaurant with a cookbook or two maybe another restaurant or a used motorcycle shop
What do you most love about your job?
I we (everybody working at Lana) help create memories on a daily basis. Its nice to see people come in every year on their birthday or anniversary
One last question, Chef: What’s your ‘Last Supper’ meal? Your ‘Death Row’ meal, as Anthony Bourdain puts it.
German style breakfast. Its cured meats, cheeses, breads pastries more meat more cheese some pickled or cured fish and a beer or 3
by Chef John Ondo
Preserved Lemon Risotto
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 1/2 Tbs. kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper
6 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, heated
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 Tbs. minced preserved lemons
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. flat-leaf parsley, finely sliced
Melt the butter in a shallow, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the rice, garlic, salt, and white pepper and stir until all of the rice has been coated with the butter. Add one and a half cups of heated stock.
Using a wooden spoon, stir the rice until the liquid is almost absorbed. Continue cooking, adding half a cup of warm stock at a time, stirring frequently to prevent scorching and letting each addition of stock be absorbed before adding the next. When the rice begins to look a little creamy and all of the stock is gone, 20 to 30 minutes, the rice should be almost tender. Add the wine and preserved lemons and continue to cook risotto until wine is absorbed. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and the parsley and serve immediately.
Photos by Helene Dujardin
210 Rutledge Ave Charleston, SC 29403