Cook the kielbasa in the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over high heat until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the onions, salt, pepper, and bay leaves and cook, stirring, until the onions are slightly caramelized, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the stock and the beer. Add the thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Add the cheese a little at a time, stirring until nearly completely melted after each addition. Remove from the heat, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Garnish each serving of the soup with a handful of the popcorn and minced fresh chives.
For the popcorn: In a large, partially covered saucepan heat olive oil and 1 piece of popping corn until hot enough to make the corn pop. Add the remaining popping corn and cook partially covered, shaking, until all corn is popped. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients until evenly coated.
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Recipe from “New New Orleans Cooking”, by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch, published by William and Morrow, 1993.