Lunch with Marjorie: Winter with the Que Man in Chicagoland—part three

Larry’s Gerber, the BarBQue Man, appears weekly on Rockford’s WTVO Daybreak show. He’s gathering a following while developing Chicago barbecue as a regional identity.

“We’re (Larry and Channel 17) cooking now all year,” said Larry Gerber.

“You’ve convinced them this isn’t seasonal?” I asked.

“Yeah, and they like the e-mails and the positive feedback,” Gerber added.

“I don’t get up at 5 a.m.,” I confessed. “I record it.”

“I record it, too,” he said. “I watch it when I get home after Combat

“Do you want to be more than regional?”

“Yeah. I was supposed to do a taping with Bobbie Flay on the Food Network. They rescheduled it four different times. ‘He’s coming to Chicago. He’s coming to Chicago. He’s coming to Chicago. He’s not coming to Chicago.’”

“You don’t say flattering things about him,” I said.

“If he’s coming to Chicago and having me on his show, he’s adding credibility to his show—not me adding credibility to my profession,” Gerber said of Flay.

“Have you won contests?” I asked.

“I used to do competition barbecue,” he said. “I won the Michigan State Barbecue Championship, the Wisconsin State Barbecue Championship.”

Larry is really adamant about cooking low and slow for great barbecue.

“In a strip center, you can’t really have a barbecue pit,” Larry said. “A lot of these bring (ribs) already done in the factory…Cryovac. They take it out, throw it on the grill, slather it with sauce, bring it up to temperature, and put it on a plate. You can’t cheat the process. A good rib is when you bite into it, the rest of the meat stays. The place where you bit, the meat is gone clean from the bone. A rib won’t do that if it’s boiled or steamed.”

“Do you have days off?” I asked.

“Rarely,” Larry said. “We like walking the dog in the state park, going to Door County and kicking back. I can’t get enough football…the Bears, and they’re a good customer of mine.”

“Passions other than barbecue?”

“Health. You can’t do any of this if you’re not healthy. When my diabetes was out of control, I couldn’t do squat.”

His doctor told him he was a walking time bomb.

“That scared you?”

“What scared me was when he suggested gastric bypass. I was heavy in high school. When I was a junior, I weighed 300 pounds, and I got down to 188 pounds my senior year. I kept it off for a long time, till I was 25 or 26. I kept it off for a long time, and then working at the jazz nightclub, I’d have pizzas at 2 a.m., bagels and lox at 5 in the morning, and then go home. That stuff just puts weight on you.”

After his doctor visit, Larry decided he had to change.

“I thought, ‘enough playing around,’” Larry said. “My grandfather on my dad’s side had three heart attacks. The last one was fatal. My mom’s mother had two heart attacks. The last one was fatal. My dad’s had two heart attacks. My grandfather and my dad are diabetics, and then I am. I was shooting insulin twice a day. I hated doing this; this sucks. I changed my diet, saw a sports nutritionist, and I’ve lost 130 pounds since June of 2004.”

“What’s been most important about your diet?” I asked.

“Not to cut carbs,” Larry said. “I tried Atkin’s. It drove me crazy. The sports-nutritionist told me what fiber and supplements to take to control glucose and blood sugar. I started drinking kefir yogurt, high in probiotics and enzymes. It’s high in calcium. You have to have a lot of dairy; but it’s low fat. It originated in Russia…the people eating it lived to be over 100 with very little illness. I want to get down to play men’s league baseball. I was a great baseball player when I was a kid and in high school. I love it. I want to play baseball again. I heard Rockford has a bunch of men’s leagues.”

“What will you be doing at 65?” I asked.

“Retired in Door Country, fishing and snowmobiling and playing with the dog,” Larry said.

“And grilling for your family?”

“What I want is a pig-roasting company up there,” Larry said. “And just cater family reunions, corporations on retreat. …”

“You won’t really retire?”

“I can’t retire. Both my parents are past 65. They both work, not because they have to, but because they want to.”

“Where do we get your sauce?”

“Logli’s, Woodman’s, Benson Stone.”

“Can I call you when I need a food tip?”


Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

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