Q&A with chef Nathan Thurston of The Ocean Room at Kiawah Island

Nathan Thurston

Well into his third year at The Ocean Room at Kiawah Island, chef Nathan Thurston continues to impress diners with his creativity and commitment to local produce.

I recently tried one of Thurston's new dishes, Geechie Boy Mill's "Big Grits," and was blown away! First of all, the dish is incredibly beautiful. Beyond that, though, the grits are amazing. The texture is a cross between grits and risotto, which makes for creamy deliciousness.

I was able to sit down with Thurston to discuss this latest creation:

Q: When did you start working with Geechie Boy and how did you hear about them?

A: I started working with Greg Johnsman with Geechie Boy Mills about two years ago. Greg and I really hit it off.

Q: What makes their grits special?

A: First of all, Greg is very particular about the corn he uses -- only the best. Next, he has sourced equipment from the early 1900s that puts a texture on them that's perfect.

Q: Is this your first time working with okra flowers?

A: Yes, this was the first time. I remember seeing them growing up on farms in the south but never considered them to be edible.

Q: How did you decide what to do with them?

A: After doing some research, I could not find a single recipe, procedure or mention of preparing okra flowers to be eaten. So I just started cooking them. I started with delicate techniques such as raw, steaming and poaching in a beurre monte. After that, I tried grilling them and, believe it or not, frying them. After all my experimentation, I concluded that the beurre monte poached and tempura-fried techniques showcased the most flavor and appearance.

Q: What is your favorite thing about this dish?

A: First of all, the pickled okra, okra flowers, tomatoes and grits were all procured by Geechie Boys Mills. Unintentionally, it ended up as homage to the "Geechie Boy." Also, to me it's a true testament to Southern cuisine. I disagree with the phrase that "the South will rise again." The South has already risen in the modern culinary realm, and we will continue to re-create the recipes that we were taught by our elders.

Q: Tell me about the preparation.

A: The grits are cooked traditionally yet stirred more often, like a risotto technique, the heirloom grape and cherry tomatoes are blanched and peeled, and the okra flowers are poached lightly in a beurre monte. The Burden Creek goat cheese is just crumbled.