Equal parts showman, ringleader, and chef, Kristian Niemi of Bourbon Columbia and Black Rooster has long been a pioneer in Columbia's burgeoning food and beverage industry, having opened some of Columbia's most popular restaurants throughout the years. Niemi is also a current partner in the Farm to Table Event Company, specializing in dinners and events focused on local, sustainable, food sources. He’s been a champion of the region and its dining on the Food Network, SCETV, and at various festivals throughout the country. At the center of all of this is a focus on creating an experience for the guests, whether that be through building a 300-bottle bourbon collection for his restaurant’s bar, presenting a flaming dessert tableside, or making an open-air breakfast for his fellow cooks and staff before an event. Cooking and entertaining are an integral part of this chef’s life, and he brings life to any event when he’s participating in it, especially if there’s something to be cooked over an open fire on a Sea Island Forge Kettle.
Do you have a grilling or campfire memory that started your love of outdoor cooking?
I grew up in Northern Minnesota, and I honestly don’t remember the first time cooking over fire since it was such a part of life. But some of my favorite times have been cooking in cast iron over fire, camping and bringing a limited larder, and cooking what we shot or caught. Growing up, if we weren’t outside cooking over fire, we were inside cooking with it in the fireplace.
What’s one meal that really shines on your SIF Kettle?
The main thing is quick grilling. I like to get a 2 ½ pound porterhouse and put it bone down on the Kettle’s Grill. Lower the grill and once that bone warms up, flip the meat on its side. It’s simple, easy, and done in no time.
What is something that you’ve cooked on the SIF Kettle that surprised you?
The whole bacon, eggs, and breakfast thing. It’s so easy with the kettle fire [Griddle]. Campfire-style breakfasts are something people often don’t think about doing as entertaining, but if we have an event outside where we’ll be cooking all day, or we’ve been cooking all night (like for barbecue), I’ll load the Kettle in the truck and bring breakfast to cook over the open fire.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I’m all over the place. My preference by far is cooking over fire, the simplicity of it, but I like trying something new. I like variety, learning something, so I am always mixing it up.
What type of wood do you like for your SIF Kettle and why?
I mostly buy oak, but if I’m doing smoking, I’ll use some peach and pecan. One of my buddies has a peach farm, and when trees have to go, he’ll bring me a truck load of the wood.
What’s something tricky about open fire that the average cook needs to know?
The average cook is afraid of burning things, but anything sweet benefits from a char that adds bitterness to balance it. That blackening, and I’m not talking about the seasoning, but the color from the fire itself, can be delicious, and people often feel like they’ve screwed up and they haven’t. Before discarding something, try it first. It’s a great way to learn, and it will often be delicious.
What is your favorite element of the SIF Kettle?
The versatility by far. I love the fact that with the Kettle we can have a fire and my guests and I can all gather around it, then throw on a grill and prepare a meal, then remove and get back to socializing. It’s a constant focal point, a one-stop shop for entertaining.
Grilled Pork Chops with Cranberry-Apple Chutney
From Kristian Niemi, Bourbon & Black Rooster, Columbia, SC
Chef’s Note: You always want to brine your pork chops. Brining not only adds deep flavor to your chops, but also keeps them juicier, MUCH juicier.
Pork Chop Brine
4 thick-cut pork chops
2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. sugar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 c. hot water
4 c. ice cold water
Large zip-top plastic bag
Put the salt, sugar, garlic, thyme and pepper into the plastic bag (or into a mixing bowl if you prefer) and add the hot water. Shake the bag to dissolve the salt and sugar, then add the cold water and chops. Let them brine for 4-6 hours, then remove and reserve until you're ready to grill.
2 Granny Smith apples (Fuji or Honeycrisp also work well), peeled and diced
½ c. chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
¾ c. dried cranberries
½ c. light brown sugar
2 tsp, mustard seeds
⅓ c. white balsamic vinegar (or cider vinegar)
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft. Remove from heat and chill until ready to use.
Season the chops with a bit more salt and pepper, and grill to medium or medium-well. Serve with the Cranberry-Apple Chutney.