Bwog has teamed up with the Food Pantry at Columbia to produce a four-part series of cooking videos, using ingredients that are found in the Food Pantry at Columbia. The chef for this episode is Chris Thompson, and he’s cooking a wild mushroom and bean ragout with creamy grits!

Interview with the Chef

Firstly, give us a quick introduction about yourself!

My name is Christopher Thompson. I’m a senior in General Studies, studying Sociocultural Anthropology. I graduate this December. In addition to finishing my term as the Student Body President for General Studies, I also serve as the Vice President of the Columbia Recovery Coalition.

Why and how did you get involved with the Food Pantry at Columbia, and what inspired you to make these cooking videos for them?

The Food Pantry, on top of being a critically important cause on campus, intersected early on with a lot of the advocacy work I was doing both in the recovery sphere and with Student Council. It just became a situation where I found myself working toward a lot of the same goals and occupying a lot of the same spaces that the Food Pantry team was, so my involvement started there. I was also a chef for almost ten years before I came back to college, so it felt natural to leverage that expertise on behalf of such a great cause.

How did you get into cooking, and what is your favorite thing to cook?

I was a chef for nine years before I came back to college when I turned 30. I worked mostly in New Orleans (where I’m from), but also in Los Angeles and overseas, in Croatia. I worked primarily in fine dining, and because of that, I’d have to say that my favorite things to cook are things that focus on simplicity, elegance, and deep engagement with technique. A good, simple gumbo or a cassoulet are two examples of things I love to cook because they focus on the process.

Where does this recipe come from? Do you use cookbooks for inspiration, or is it all trial and error?

Recipes and cookbooks are a source of great inspiration for me. I like to think of them as a jumping-off point, a place to gather ideas and set intentions before I start to work. I cannot say I very often follow recipes strictly, but they are an important step in the process of understanding what it is I want to accomplish. Cooking, to me, is a lifelong process of trial and error. We learn by doing, and so the bits of knowledge transmitted to us through cooking are as tactile and sensory and felt as they are intellectually comprehended. It’s a process that takes time, and lots of failures, but I’ve found that with repetitive failure (and some small successes) comes the confidence to experiment, or to veer off course with purpose.

Wild Mushroom and Bean Ragout with Creamy Grits

  • White button mushrooms, about 10 (common grocery store mushrooms)
  • Cherry tomatoes, about 30
  • Shallots, about 3
  • Kale, 1 bunch
  • Parsley, about 1/2-1 cup
  • Olive oil, about 1-2 tablespoons
  • Heavy cream, about 1 cup
  • Water, about 1 cup
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Garlic, 3 cloves
  • Butter
  • Vegetable stock
  • Corn grits
  • White beans, 1 can
  1. Chop the mushrooms, halve the cherry tomatoes, peel and finely chop the shallots, and set aside, keeping them separate. Peel, crush, and mince the garlic cloves, setting aside as well. Tear and rip up the kale, and chop the parsley, keeping them separate as well.
  2. Add oil to a pan on low heat. Once the oil is up to temperature, add the mushrooms and tomatoes to the pan, raising the heat with the addition. Add shallots and garlic to the mix and remember to stir periodically. After a few minutes, once the mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, and onion begin to turn translucent and aromatic, add the stock to the mixture until at minimum half the vegetables are covered. Add ½ cup of the heavy cream, the can of white beans, and the kale. Stir and cover, letting the mixture braise.
  3. While the vegetables are sautéing, start making the grits. Add the rest of the heavy cream and the water to a pot with corn grits and a pinch of salt. Stir consistently, and once grits and liquid are incorporated, add butter and/or cheese for creaminess. Continue to stir frequently and maintain heat so that the grits don’t scorch on the bottom of the pot until grits are firmed up and thickened. At this point, they can continue cooking until they begin to taste creamy and the flavor of rawness mellows out (20-30 minutes in total).
  4. Pour the grits into a bowl and add the ragout on top. Garnish with parsley.

Image via Bwogger