| The News Herald
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Grits are a Southern staple — whether dabbed with butter, thickened with cheese or topped with shrimp for a coastal classic.
Chef Forist Bishop elevates grits and more Southern favorites with a fresh twist at GRITS Coastal Southern Catering.
“It’s Southern inspired comfort food, not as heavy as traditional Southern food. It’s fresh and seasonal. We have a spring and summer and fall and winter menus,” Bishop said.
Since July, Bishop has been back at Your Pro Kitchen — the commercial kitchen space on Commerce Drive where the entrepreneur operated as “The Little Lunchbox Lady” five years ago. She acknowledged the gourmet lunchbox delivery service and catering business came down to an issue of “logistics with just me cooking and delivering.”
Bishop, now 26, is still putting together innovative menus starring locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients — but now she has help for catering larger events.
“It’s kind of a crazy time to start a business with COVID, but we’re definitely taking a lot of safety precautions on the catering end,” said Bishop, who has catered about 15 events in the past two months. “It’s mostly wedding, private events, hors d’oeuvres, private dinners, luncheons and dinner date nights. We recently had a grab-and-go picnic event that was transformed to try to have as little contact as possible.”
Bishop had left the Panama City area for Auburn, where she lived with her new husband, Tho, and helped with event planning. But the couple bought their first home in Panama City Beach last year — just in time to be back for Christmas.
“Every time I was at an event, I missed cooking,” she admitted. “I just love cooking, the ultimate art that uses all five senses. I missed being creative and making people happy and bringing people together.”
Bishop will come to your home to cater date night, a double date or dinner party with a custom menu — and you don’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning or serving. She can even bring a bartender.
GRITS caters throughout Bay County, from Panama City to Panama City Beach, and even along 30A — where Bishop previously worked at restaurants including Wild Olives, Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar, Black Bear Bread Co. making sourdough bread. Her resume also includes the former Wine Knot Tapas in Panama City — where she used her culinary skills (garnered from experience and culinary training at Gulf Coast State College) on tapas and paella.
More: Passion for Paella
GRITS’ appetizers and small plates include grit cheese fritters, of course: deep fried grits balls with creamy cheesy filling served on greens with pepper jelly or herb buttermilk ranch, as well as charred sweet peppers, bacon jam, fried Brussels sprouts and whipped feta dip.
Grits are available a la carte — in varieties from Southern cheese or barbecue, to blue cheese, spicy jalapeno, buttermilk cheddar or herb and goat cheese.
When it comes to Southern cuisine, the secret is sometimes in the sauce. In addition to the ranch, Bishop’s freshly made sauces include chimichurri, pink peppercorn, smoky chipotle, and garlicky feta herb.
Take grits in different directions with condiments and freshly pickled toppings. Bishop does her fair share of pickling with peach and Vidalia Onion relish, garlicky dill pickles, tangy pickled red onions, pickled curried cauliflower, and spicy pickled green beans.
And of course, there are grit entrees. Shrimp and grits feature fresh caught shrimp in chipotle smoky broth with peppers, garlic, sweet peas and herbs over rich smooth Gouda grits.
“For shrimp, I’m using Wood’s Fisheries in Port St. Joe. They’re huge and very meaty. I’ll travel and get them any day,” Bishop said.
Wood’s Fisheries, known for its wild American shrimp, began in 1860. The family business is located on the shore of St. Joseph Bay at the entrance to the Intracoastal Waterway. (For more about Wood’s Fisheries and some of their suggested shrimp recipes, visit WoodsFisheries.com.)
Other GRITS’ entrees include Braised Pork and Grits, as well as vegetarian options: wild mushroom and grits, smoky ratatouille and grits (of course, you can always add bacon). Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin can be served over Gouda grits drizzled with a saute of red onion, sweet peppers, peas, garlic and kale in a smoky tomato broth; and roasted chimichurri chicken and Gouda grits with pan roasted lemony crispy chicken and with drizzle of chimichurri creamy herb sauce.
But it’s not just grits on the menu. Southern sides include collard greens, jalapeno honey cornbread, creamy pasta salad — and another Southern coastal favorite, lobster mac and cheese.
“The seasonal soups are really fun to try with anything in season,” said Bishop, who admitted the soups are some of her favorites.
Her fall and winter soup menu includes butternut squash bisque, carrot bisque, loaded potato soup, and white bean and ham. And for something lighter, try the seasonal salads featuring pear and blue cheese of pomegranate couscous.
Or talk to her about dessert options.
Bishop enjoys working with clients on recipe development and creating personalized menus, and she loves a good theme.
“I started really cooking in high school for family dinners. My mom (Dagny Johnston) was so supportive. She’d come up with different countries and whatever I picked out (on the piece of paper from the coffee mug) would be my theme,” said Bishop, who also inherited her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit. (Johnston owns Dagny and Dexter’s Doggie Daycare and Spaw in Panama City.)
GRITS Coastal Southern Catering
What: Custom catering and personal chef services
Where: Serving Panama City to Panama City Beach and 30A
Details: 850-775-7373, gritspcb.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook.com/gritspcb or Instagram: gritspcb