I remember how hot it would get in Chicago when I was a kid. It seemed that back in the 50’s it would get so hot and not just one day or two …but several weeks in a row of temperatures up over 100 degrees… I remember it was so hot and humid that when I looked out of the window of our little third floor apartment…I would see the heat waves rising up off of all that concrete and asphalt… we had no air conditioning in our little third floor apartment.

My mom wanting to get us kids out of that incredible heat would put us on the Soo Line Railroad and we would travel through the night… stopping at all the small towns from Chicago through the farmlands of Wisconsin. Arriving into Spooner, Wisconsin early in the morning… I can remember waking up and seeing the morning fog over the fields and forestlands…I often thought how beautiful vibrant all the colors of the sky as the morning sun started to peek its orange fiery head over dark green pines… once we got off the train… we had to wait on the train station platform until someone picked us up and drove us on dirt roads to the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation where my grandmother’s house was in the Whitefish Reserve on Potato Lake Road… it was a small little three room shack with no running water, no electricity and no gas.  But I can remember how much cooler it was up in the northwoods of Wisconsin.

At night, I remember looking out my grandmother’s bedroom into the northern sky up over the towering pines… I was amazed at how incredibly dark blue the sky was…there were no city lights just billions of sparkling stars lighting up the night.

When folks say that “Up North” is God’s country I really believe it… as I stared at those stars that just seemed so close… but then there were a few stars that shown really bright in the northern sky… and there were billions of other stars that kinda were there… but then they just faded off into the vastness of space.

As a kid… I can still remember looking at these stars and thinking to myself… Would my life be like one of these stars that shown so bright in the northern sky or would my life be like one of the other billions of stars that just seemed to fade off into the vastness of space?

In the morning…I remember waking up to the smell and sounds of fresh coffee percolating on the wood fired stove and seeing the wisps of smoke like some kind of ghost had escaped from the inner chambers of the old cast iron stove weaving their way through the room riding the rays of early morning sunshine that was streaming through the kitchen windows.

My grandmother Anna Johnson would sit by the kitchen window wearing an old well worn dress with tan-colored droopy stockings and big black sturdy shoes. My grandmother always wore a hand knit sagging sweater with big pockets where she kept her tin of Prince Albert chewing tobacco. Next to her chair was an old Folger’s can where she spit.

When I heard the coffee percolating…I knew this was my signal to go outside to the pump and haul up the bucket that was kept in the cold depths of the well… this is where we kept our eggs, slab bacon, and milk. I don’t think there is a better breakfast than smoky slab bacon, fried eggs, and fresh baked bread slathered with dairy fresh butter and home made raspberry jam… handmade from the big juicy raspberries that we had just picked fresh the day before.

Spending time on my mom’s Indian reservation was also a great time for me because it was there… where I first learned how to cook. In order to raise extra money for the family… my mom would often cook at Indian Pow-Wows… for those who have never seen a real Indian Pow-wow… it is a time of celebration where many Indian families would get together in their traditional Indian outfits. There would be singing around a drum and there would be Indian dancing around a pine bough arbor.

Lac Courte Oreilles’ annual Honor the Earth Celebration Pow-Wow…in Hayward Wisconsin is a magnificent gathering of the tribes during the third week in July.  Indian families across the Midwest gather at the Lac Courte Oreilles Pow-Wow grounds and for four days they honor our mother earth through Indian dancing, feasts, and give-a-ways.

My mom had an Indian Fry Bread stand where we would cook Indian Fry Bread and serve venison deer meat sandwiches served on the Indian Fry bread and we would cook wild rice. This is where I learned how to cook my famous Wild Rice Soup that is still served in all of our restaurants. You might say this was my first restaurant experience! …a Indian Fry Bread stand made out of saplings and a canvas tarp at an Indian Pow-wow…

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My Barbecue Influences…


Real authentic barbecue is found in the little storefront barbecue joints on the Westside of Chicago; the country roadside smokehouses found in the Carolinas, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee; and the huge mesquite pits found in Texas. I have been in over 3,000 barbecue joints in the last 35 years, and have tasted the good, the bad, and the mouthwatering! But my first love was Eddie’s Ribs next to the “L” train stop in Logan Square, Chicago. As young as 8 years old, I can remember the huge glassed in wood smoker in the front window where a black gentleman pitmaster would turn the ribs that were smoldering over hickory with a huge fork before slathering a homemade sauce over these tender smoky fall off the bone ribs. The first time I tasted these tasty morsels of mouthwatering smoky ribs charred over the glowing coals of a lively hickory fire and then slathered with a brown sugar, molasses, and apple cider barbecue sauce…I knew from that instant I was going to own my own barbecue restaurant one day and I would have the best barbecue in the world!

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