Race to Make This Grits Recipe From the Kentucky Derby

The 150th Run for the Roses is taking place on Saturday afternoon

May 2, 2024 6:33 am
Chef Robert Lopez’s herbed gournay Wiesenberger grits.
Churchill Downs will have grits on the menu over the weekend.
Churchill Downs

A Southern staple many who reside north of the Mason-Dixon line are as uninformed about as NASCAR, boiled peanuts and what “Bless your heart” really means, grits may have a special place in history. There are some who believe the cookable particles of ground corn begging for flavoring were offered to the Jamestown settlers by Native Americans in 1607, according to The New York Times.

It hasn’t been around quite that long, but the Weisenberger Mill on the banks of Kentucky’s South Elkhorn Creek outside Lexington has an association with grits that dates back more than 150 years. Owned and operated by the Weisenberger family since 1865 as the Civil War was ending, the mill produces stone-ground grits that tote more taste and texture than their instant or quick-cooking cousins. Those same grits will be making some history of their own this weekend when they appear on the menu at Churchill Downs during the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Put together by executive chef Robert Lopez, who is originally from Long Island and began his culinary career at Citi Field as a personal chef for New York Mets ownership, this year’s Derby Day menu will be capable of feeding the thousands of bourbon-swilling guests who are expected to go through 20,000 bottles of Woodford Reserve and calls for 10,000 pounds of smoked brisket, 9,000 pounds of shrimp and 1,000 pounds of cheese.

Some of that cheese will be used for the herbed Gournay Wiesenberger grits Lopez will be serving alongside decadent dishes including bourbon cherry brisket burnt ends, ‘nduja shrimp pasta and spring panzanella salad. Complemented by a selection of craft cocktails, the grits call for gourmet Boursin cheese as well as locally produced cheddar from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese. But according to Lopez, it’s the Wiesenberger grits that really tie the dish together and help give it a new yet familiar feel.

When It Comes to Southern Cuisine, Kenny Gilbert Is All About Global Flavors
In his debut cookbook, the award-winning chef puts a spin on some of his favorite dishes with ingredients from around the world

“We’ve served grits in the past, but never in this style. It’s a style of grits that no one’s familiar with,” Lopez tells InsideHook. “Weisenberger products are a staple everyone knows. When people taste their grits, they taste familiarity, tradition and maybe a little bit of nostalgia. We want to keep that nostalgia but enhance it and make it Derby-worthy. Hopefully a large portion of our menu will do that this year.”

As Lopez explains, he always tries to put his own spin on a dish, even one that’s been done many times before. “There are dozens of ways to have grits and multiple ways you can grind them,” he says. “I try to look outside of the box as most people do in New York. If you’re not doing something new there, you’re up and out. I spend hours and weeks researching and if I can’t find a dish, there’s a good chance it might not have been done before or the bulk of the population hasn’t seen it. That’s what I’m looking for.”

What Lopez found is that Weisenberger’s grits are a great jumping-off point for experimentation, at least in Kentucky. “They’re probably the most consistent grit I’ve had and a tradition in the community. Some people have been eating Weisenberger grits for upwards of 50 years,” Lopez says. “It’s a familiar product, so people are going to expect one thing and taste something else. That something is going to be eye-opening for them in a great way. It’s not just the paint you’re using, it’s the canvas you’re painting on. All those little pieces add up.”

Here’s how to make Lopez’s gritty masterpiece.

Chef Robert Lopez’s Wiesenberger Grits

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 mins

Servings: Serves four

  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 4 oz. roasted corn (off the cob)
  • To taste kosher salt
  • To taste freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup Wiesenberger grits
  • 4 oz. Boursin Cheese
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 2 oz. Kenny’s cheddar cheese, shredded
    1. Place grits into saucepan and add chicken stock, three tablespoons of butter and bring to a boil. Stir in half & half, salt and pepper.

    2. Slowly stir in grits until fully incorporated, then add corn, stir and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and grits are creamy.

    3. Taste, adjust seasonings if needed and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with thin slices of the remaining butter, green onion and cheddar cheese. Serve immediately.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.