Coast Cooking

Why Robert Sweeting is ‘Bubba Grits’ of South Mississippi

Robert Sweeting shows off his Mississippi-made grits and rice products.
Robert Sweeting shows off his Mississippi-made grits and rice products. SPECAIL TO THE SUN HERALD

Robert Sweeting of Bay St. Louis spent many years as a museum professional, but not long ago he was introduced to Mississippi-made freshly ground grits.

And his world changed.

Being a Southern cook, he couldn’t resist the temptation and he tried a bag.

They proved to be the best he ever had, and he immediately set about contacting Georgeanne Ross, the owner of The Original Grit Girl in Oxford, the wholesale company responsible for making the grits. They soon reached an agreement.

Ross sells her Mississippi-made freshly ground grits to more than 100 restaurants in the U.S. from New York to California.

Sweeting realized there also was a retail market for grits, and he soon had a booth at the Ocean Springs Fresh Market on Saturday mornings, selling for Ross.

Sweeting has a retail background, having run an art gallery and several museum gift shops, and he recognized offering samples of the grits was going to be the key to his success.

Finding the right recipe for the samples, he said, would make the difference in success or failure.

“My grandmother taught me how to cook,” he said, “so Southern basics just come naturally to my style of cooking.”

That early experience in his grandmother’s kitchen proved vital to finding the just-right recipe.

Grits requires lots of liquid and “many people use plain water,” Sweeting said, but he experimented with combinations of cream and chicken stock. That was a winner, but it needed something else.

He went back to basics and added the trinity of Creole cooking (onions, bell pepper and celery) and just couldn’t resist a good cup of grated white cheese.

The results were spectacular.

These grits are so good that after they sample them at the Fresh Market the majority of people who try them can’t resist buying a bag.

“People just love these grits,” Sweeting said.

The venture has been successful not only in introducing people to fresh-ground grits, but to Sweeting’s recipes as well.

He said some of his friends have given him the nickname “Bubba Grits.”

He also added Mississippi-made rice and rice grits to his inventory and is finding similar success. Check out what he has to offer Saturday mornings at the Ocean Springs Fresh Market.

Rice Grits

1 cup grits

1 cup half and half

1 cup low sodium chicken broth (more as needed)

½ stick butter

3 cloves garlic

1 chopped sweet onion

3 stalks of chopped celery

1 small package baby portabella mushrooms, finely chopped

Add first four ingredients to a thick bottom pot and bring to a boil, then lower to a low simmer.

Very important to stir frequently and monitor the liquid absorption. You will add up to 4 more cups of chicken broth. Keep the additional broth warm, and add it a cup at a time when the grits get too thick. Remember to keep stirring. While doing above, sauté the garlic, onion and celery in butter, then sauté the mushrooms until crispy (make sure the mushrooms are finely chopped). Once grits are done add the other ingredients and serve at once. The grits can be placed in ramekins or other forms, then popped out when solid for better presentation.

Yellow Corn Grits

1 cup grits

2 cups chicken broth (more as needed)

2 cups half and half

Butter

Flour and milk in equal measure for béchamel sauce

Chef Paul Creole Seasoning

1 chopped red bell pepper

½ cup chopped celery

1 small chopped sweet onion

3-4 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup grated white cheese

Add grits, stock and cream and as much butter as you like to pot and bring to boil, then lower to simmer. Stir frequently. Add more stock as needed during the cooking process when the grits become too thick. Pour into ramekins and let set at room temp. The ramekins make for much better presentation.

Meanwhile, make a Béchamel sauce with the milk and flour (stir over low heat for 5 minutes but do not brown) then and add Chef Paul Creole Seasoning. Sauté red bell, celery, sweet onion and garlic in butter for 5 minutes, then add to the sauce, add white cheese. Cook until it tastes delicious! Run knife along ramekins edge and invert to release grits. Top with the sauce. Add blackened shrimp for something really special.

Consider serving grits with a garnish of fresh vegetables like greens, or even a red sauce, such as Italian Bolognese.

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