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

Larry Gerber, the BarBQue Man, grew up in Chicago, in a family of kosher butchers. His evolution to a professional barbecue specialist developed over time. Here is part two of his three-part story.

“It took a long time to see your family recipe was your trade,” I said.

“It didn’t take me long,” Larry said. “I wanted to do it prior. I had the cooking show in Chicago.”

“Whoa. Cooking show?” I asked.

“I produced and hosted a show called Culinary Adventures With the BarBQue Man, on CLT, the Tribune-owned cable channel. The show started in 1997 and went to 2001.”

“That’s a long run. Why was it successful?” I asked.

“Because I did all the work,” he paused, letting out his slow, nasal “haa, haa, haa. I did all the promo, booked guests, secured advertisers.”

We paused. Larry was enjoying his salmon; my huge spinach salad was fabulous, laden with oranges, nuts, bacon and egg in usual DiGiovanni huge portions.

After Larry’s show’s sponsor, a barbecue sauce company, opted out, he launched his own barbecue sauce.

“I had packaging, recipes, nutritional information ready to go,” he said.

“There’s a health aspect to your sauce,” I said.

“I market it with diabetics and people with heart problems,” Larry said. “I didn’t change the recipe. I found it was lower in sodium than national brands, lower in sugar. The ingredients I use don’t cause concern with hyperactivity. I use pure cane sugar and molasses, not high fructose corn syrup.”

High fructose! A personal hot button.

“Dr. Weil says it’s bad,” I said.

“Yup,” Larry said. “I avoid most of that. That’s how I lost 130 pounds in 14 months—that along with not eating deep-fried foods. They set off sugar cravings. If I start with a teaspoon, I’m going to have to have a gallon.”

“You’re diabetic?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I haven’t shot insulin since (last January),” he said. “My cholesterol’s gone down 150 points.”

“That’s great,” I said.

Even though his food interests formed around his father’s butcher shop, his food career waited decades to really get started. After a series of jobs, he studied for his real estate sales and broker licenses.

“I was Rookie of the Year the first year,” he said. “Sold 28 homes. I was in real estate for 10 years—building houses the last three of those, and marketing them. That’s where food evolved. It’s weird.”

“I’m missing some connection,” I said.

“A friend of mine, an editor at the Daily Herald, knew I cooked year-round; she was at one of my parties,” he said. “I cooked barbecued ribs on a grill, in the snow.”

She needed to replace an interview for a story about people who grill outside in the wintertime in the snow.

“She was frantic,” he said. “She said, ‘Be yourself, answer the questions, and we’ll take pictures of you out on your deck.’ I cooked shrimp and salmon. Next thing I know, it was published…front page of the Daily Herald

Two weeks later, a WGN producer for an outdoor grilling segment on noon news. Then the cable show offer.

“I said, yeah, I’ve watched The Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child for years,” he said. “In two hours, we had the name of the show, a concept, a studio. All I had to do was build the set. Being in construction, I built the set in three days. My grandmother gave me the seed money to get the cabinetry and kitchen set. At the end of every show, I gave tribute to my grandmother. She said I was the best risk she could take. This was 1997.”

“What drives you to do barbecue?” I asked.

“I’ve been to so many places that supposedly serve great barbecue,” he said. “They’re bringing in Cryovac ribs, throwing them on a grill, and just putting their sauce on. Their sauce is filled with high fructose corn syrup, and they’re marketing it as ‘award-winning,’ which in my book is totally bogus. The public will buy into almost anything. Everything I market is genuine. My foods take so long, I have to get up in the middle of the night to cook them.”

“Watching Food Network, I’m aware there are different regional sauces,” I said. “Do you fit any of those categories?”


He began a barbecue discourse: “Carolina has three different types—vinegar, tomato, and mustard base. East or west of the Piedmonts or north, that’s how it’s divided. Alabama has a white sauce—mayonnaise base. Memphis is a sweeter, tomato-ketchup base. Texas is a ketchup-Worcestershire with less sugar. Kansas City is thick, red, sweet sauce. Mine’s Chicago—lots of spices, lots of molasses, between sweet and sour, tangy with a variety of vinegars, heavily spiced.”

“You’re creating a new regional barbecue,” I said.

Larry said: “Chicago with the livestock, the stockyards—Chicago has always been known for beef and ribs.”

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 Dec. 28, 2005-Jan. 3, 2006, issue

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