Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chicago, IL

The Southern Foodways Alliance honors the men, women and establishments who have served Chicago as Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition.

“The heroes of our cuisine are often unsung and uncelebrated women and men,” said Lolis Eric Elie, the primary force behind the awards. “Their considerable skills tend not to be rewarded with the type of fame and fortune that is increasingly part and parcel of the white table cloth world of celebrity chefs and destination restaurants. Still, we recognize that they are the essential elements, the foundations of American cuisine in general and Southern cuisine in particular. So we have established the Tabasco Guardian of Tradition award, to be awarded at each Southern Foodways Alliance Field Trip.”

In May 2008 the SFA, along with members and friends, headed to Chicago for Camp Chicago, a day-long series of lectures and outings created to celebrate and learn about Southern food in Chicago. Each of the Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition was presented with a special award designed by artist and MacArthur Grant recipient John T. Scott. And, of course, we collected their stories.

During the first half of the 20th century, more than one million African Americans left the South in search of opportunity. They headed to urban centers like Chicago to find jobs, education, and a better racial climate. They followed parents, siblings, and friends. Many became entrepreneurs, using family recipes as a kind of cultural capital, opening restaurants across the city. The interviews collected here are stories of transplanted Southerners who left their homes but held on to family recipes. They are also stories of food as a reflection of place, family pride, and community solidarity.

Meet James Lemons of Lem’s Bar-B-Q, who left Indianola, Mississippi, as a young man, following his brothers to Chicago and into the barbecue business. Hear Barbara Ann Bracy laugh as she remembers her Mississippi-born father opening the barbecue joint she still runs on the South Side and naming it after her. Relive the moment when Civil Rights workers first visited Edna Stewart’s restaurant, Edna’s, and when Reverend Jesse Jackson fell for her sweet potatoes. Hear Izola White, originally from Tennessee, outlining her opinions on the color of dumplings and cornmeal served at Izola’s Family Dining. Get baking tips from Rose DeShazer White, who was born in Hollandale, Mississippi, and shares her grandmother’s caramel cake recipe. Scratch your head listening to John Pawlikowski of Fat Johnnie’s as he shares his thoughts on the Mother-in-Law sandwich, Chicago’s long history with tamales, and their curious connection to Mississippi.

All of the places we documented tell the stories behind the food: Southern food in Chicago.

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To learn more about Delta tamales, visit the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail.


JOHN T. SCOTT 1940-2007
It is with great sadness that we note the passing of artist John T. Scott. Mr. Scott, a native of New Orleans and recipient of a prestigious McArthur “Genius” Fellowship, created the print we use to celebrate the life and work of our Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition.

TAGS: restaurant, race, gender, Chicago Eats, Illinois, Barbara Ann's Bar-B-Que, Edna's Restaurant, Fat Johnnie's, Izola's Family Dining, Lem's Bar-B-Q, Rose DeShazer White, Great Migration, food stand