Retired fireman loves to grill

By Joe Stumpe | April 29, 2021

Bob Thompson has watched enough Food Network to think he might do well in one of its competition cooking shows. “I always know who’s going to get ‘Chopped,'” he said referring to one of the best-known shows.

When Bobby Thompson thinks back to his parents’ restaurant in Junction City, he remembers more than just filling the ice machine or standing on a chair to reach the cash register.

“Ninth Street was notorious,” Thompson said of the street his parents’ café, the Thompson Inn, was located on.

In 1999, a film called “Ninth Street” was even made about the bawdy hangout for soldiers from Fort Riley.

Something else stayed with Thompson from those days: a love of good cooking. His parents, John and Mattie Thompson, specialized in Southern food. Thompson’s tastes run a little broader, as befits an unabashed fan of the Food Network. Thompson doesn’t just watch; he’s been to the network’s food and wine festivals in New York City, Miami and Aspen.

Thompson retired from the Wichita Fire Department in 2016 after 35 years; his last post was chief prevention and education officer. By then, he was well-known by many in the community for his cooking. After joining the Wagonmasters in the early 1990s, he made such an impression cooking for Riverfest volunteers that he was named Admiral Windwagon Smith in 2003.

Thompson flirted with the idea of opening his own restaurant after retirement but instead works part-time for Security 1st Title company, cooking for customer events held by its offices around Kansas and for charitable events the company helps sponsor. Thompson and a partner man a 10,000-pound custom rig outfitted with seemingly every device a serious backyard cook could desire — including a big-screen TV and sound system. An event like the Wichita Open might find them cooking ribs, brisket, beans and more for 500 people.

“I found my restaurant right here,” Thompson said. 

Smoked Salmon

1 large salmon filet, about 3.5 to 4 lbs., preferably with skin on

Olive oil

¼ cup Old Bay seasoning

¼ cup seasoned salt

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup paprika, smoked or regular


Rub salmon all over with olive oil. Combine Old Bay seasoning, seasoned salt, sugar and paprika in a small bowl. Place salmon skin side down on a baking sheet and sprinkle with seasoning mixture. Heat grill or smoker to 225 degrees. Cook salmon over indirect heat about 2 ½ hours or until fish flakes easily.

Note: Salmon can also be cooked in an oven.