Garry Roark's secret ingredient was love


Enjoying good food is one of life’s great pleasures, and when you’re lucky enough to be served a meal by someone with a true gift for cooking – well that’s something really special.

The taste of a favorite dish is the obvious attraction of food for most of us, but the true meaningful experience is the shared connections.

It’s why I know for a fact that my Granny’s fried chicken was the best ever made, and it’s why you probably read that line and thought, “That’s just because you never tried my grandmother’s.” Or if fried chicken wasn’t your grandmother’s specialty, maybe it sparked a memory of some other favorite meal you enjoyed sharing at a table with people you loved and you knew they loved you too.

I really do think my Granny’s fried chicken was the best in the world, and I’m sure it would be judged as outstanding by any unbiased taster, but I also suspect that what truly gives me such a strong opinion about it is that I associate it with love. Many memorable moments with my family were shared around a table.

Great food does more than just bring families together. My wife Jamie and I recently sat in a crowded cafe in Memphis where people of all walks of life were sitting nearly shoulder-to-shoulder devouring plates of barbecue and fried catfish. Total strangers were talking like old friends, and in many cases the conversation started with something like, “Man, this sure is good.”

Food is like a universal language, and Garry Roark, whose death this week leaves a giant void in our community, spoke it fluently.

Like Jerry Clower or Willie Morris before him, Roark spent much of his life serving as an ambassador for Yazoo and making lasting impressions on people across the nation. They’ve stacked up so many trophies from barbecue competitions all over the country that they don’t know where to put them all, but they’ve made even more new friends along the way.

Many times when I’ve introduced myself as being from Yazoo City while traveling someone has said, “Do you know Garry Roark and those folks from Ubon’s?” I’ve always been proud to be able to respond, “I’ve known ’em all my life.”

Like my grandmother’s fried chicken, I’m convinced that Ubon’s barbecue is the best around.

And like my grandmother’s chicken, Ubon’s barbecue might really be the best there ever was, but the reason for their success is more than just excellent sauce and expert cooking techniques.

The real secret ingredient is love.

Love is what built the Ubon’s barbecue dynasty. It is truly a family affair, and it’s one that has probably succeeded beyond Garry’s wildest dreams. I doubt that even when he was excited about his barbecue sauce getting picked up by a growing number of stores and winning some big time contests in the early days he ever dreamed that one day he’d watch his daughter Leslie and his grandson Jacob cooking on national television.

The small family dream grew into an extended family, and it’s easy for me to see why because Garry always made me feel like family. Whether it was making me laugh until my belly hurt while telling me a story like the first time he tried to drive his truck pulling a big barbecue trailer into New York City for a competition and ended up circling the city for an hour trying to get over to the exit in all the traffic or when he surprised me during a recent visit to his restaurant with a bear hug and telling me that he was proud of me, Garry Roark always treated me like family.

Two things that I’ll always remember about him was that he always seemed genuinely glad to see me, and he was always enjoying life so much that it reminded me that such an attitude is always an option during some times when I needed reminding of that important fact.

After reading the countless tributes to him over the past day, I realize that many others felt the same way.

There will never be another Garry Roark, but Yazoo is blessed that he leaves behind a family that has built on the tradition that he continued from his own ancestors.

The world is blessed that his influence extended far beyond the city limits of Yazoo.