DRAPER, Utah (ABC4) – When you think about Utah’s food staples, fry sauce, funeral potatoes, and even Jell-O may come to mind.

But in Draper, one man is bringing the flavors of southern cooking to the desert.

When you open the front door of Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen, your mouth starts to water from the anticipation of decadent mac and cheese, buttery cornbread, crunchy but moist fried chicken, and balanced collard greens.

Beyond flavors, these dishes have an even richer history.

“It’s food that came from discarded pieces of meat given to slaves in the south, and they had to take it and make it palatable, so they could keep working and stay strong and stay alive,” said Chef Julius Thompson.

He has been bringing southern cooking to Utah in his brick-and-mortar restaurant since 2019. The food served up on your table at Sauce Boss has a much longer history than you might think, and it is one Thompson says should not be forgotten.

Sauce Boss’ menu is made up of flavors and foods developed in the antebellum south when enslaved black people faced scarcity, abuse, and unimaginable treatment.

“It went from that to something that’s celebrated culturally across the country and somewhat across the world,” Thompson said.

As the head chef here, he cooks recipes that have survived all adversity.

“I try to go for nostalgia, and if it’s something my family didn’t do, like blackened pork chops, I just try to go for full flavor,” he said.

Growing up in the projects of Chicago, Ill., adversity is something Thompson understands well.

“For me, food was scarce a lot of times,” he said. “We had no electricity, no hot water. We had to eat rotten baloney and moldy bread.”

His mother’s addiction to drugs did not help.

“Everybody would be in a room on drugs, and I’d be sitting outside with nothing to eat, playing in the dirt,” he said. “And I’m not going to lie, there were times I thought maybe this is what family is.”

It made for an unstable childhood.

“I bounced back and forth between Utah and Chicago, living in homeless shelters, on the streets,” Thompson said.

But there was one thing he could always rely on — meals cooked by his grandmother.

“My grandmother, who again raised ten kids, would always make big portions and extra food,” Thompson said. “She never got out of that habit.”

His grandmother told him and his brother that there would always be freshly prepared soul food for them at her house.

“We would go in there and get something to eat, and that would help us carry on to the next day,” he said. “Her catfish and bread pudding were two of my favorite things.”

Her catfish is Thompson’s wife’s favorite too.

“It took many years, but he finally got [the recipe], and I said, ‘That’s it. This reminds me of your grandma’s catfish,’” said Emily Thompson.

When business slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote an autobiography, in which he addressed his difficult childhood head-on.

“I had a lot of trauma piled up over the decades, and in the pandemic, I had a lot of time to take all of that trauma and get it out,” he said.

“I’m just so happy for him that he has been able to work through a lot of his traumas and live his dream,” Emily Thompson said.

As for his ancestors who created soul food, Thompson honors them through his cooking and his restaurant.

“You’re celebrating something that once came from a place of pain to now it’s a place of pleasure,” he said.