Chef's Table - Golden Grains

I'd been tipped off that Glen Roberts, founder of Anson Mills, is also a historian of corn and rice. In this labor of love, Roberts serves as his company's seedsman, grower and miller. He has repatriated numerous grain varieties from extinction, selling 80 authentic products from heirloom staple grains found in Charleston and coastal Georgia.

Creative Loafing: How'd you get into the growing and selling grains?

Roberts: I used to own and operate a company that did architectural restoration of historical buildings. I'd sometimes consult on menus. I would try to put together meals sympathetic to the period and architecture, but I couldn't find ingredients. I started reading documents in the USDA archives and in agricultural societies looking for seed names. Then I read a 1952 editorial in the Charleston Post & Courier about the passing of real, coarsely ground, antebellum hominy and a light went on.

Your most famous product, Anson Mills grits, is served at places like Floataway Cafe, Woodfire Grill, MidCity Cuisine and Aria. How'd you brand a commodity like grits?

It was hard, hard, hard. I really thought when we put it out, it would be accepted because it was so good. Even with people like Tom Keller of the French Laundry, Charlie Trotter and Annie Quatrano of Bacchanalia beating the drums, it was a hard battle. Our product is certified organic, hand processed, highly perishable and expensive.

Who else is eating your grits?

Thirty-five restaurants in Atlanta as well as great restaurants in every major metropolitan area in the country. We sell all over the world, to thousands of restaurants in Japan, Russia, Europe, Mexico, the Yukon. We have a wide, stable basis to support the farmers to grow.

What makes Anson Mills grits so special?

Big pieces of bursting creamed corn, not the pabulum you get today. Our gourdseed white and John Haulk yellow variety are unlike any others you've tasted.

What don't most of us know about grits?

Grits are the only food that I know of that improves with long holding and slow cooking. It takes six hours to do grits right. Grits are tough to mill and process. It's basically two rocks and a pile of grain ... it hasn't changed since the time of the caveman.

chefstable@creativeloafing.com Anson Mills products are sold locally at Star Provisions, or visit www.ansonmills.com.??

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