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McHenry chef fights disease

Photo provided McHenry's Mike Ventresca prepares a meal in his home in 2011.

McHenry’s Mike Ventresca burst on the outdoors scene in January 2011 at the Chicago Outdoors Sport Show at Rosemont.

Billed by his nickname, “Chef Green Acres,” Ventresca wowed large audiences with his seminars on cooking game and fish and also his demonstrations in which he skinned and butchered a whitetail deer carcass live on the show’s stage.

Now, he’s battling Lyme disease.

The short, stocky Ventresca is a former rodeo bullrider. He looks like he could pick one of them up and body slam it if need be. He definitely casts a “tough guy” appearance, looking nothing like what you’d imagine a chef to resemble. Clad in his cowboy hat and wearing a white athletic undershirt, Ventresca doesn’t dress the part of a culinary master, either.

How popular were Mike’s performances? Showgoers would actually walk right past seminars being given by Al Lindner and Kevin Van Dam to watch Mike whip up a batch of his bluegill lasagna. There was talk about a Chef Green Acres TV show and countless people promised to buy a cookbook if Mike wrote one. The guy was truly on a roll and when he made his return to the seminar stages in 2012, people crammed the stands.

When the 2013 outdoors show schedule rolled around, Chef Green Acres was nowhere to be found. People were astounded that Mike wasn’t returning to the stage. Many, many people wanted to know where Mike had disappeared to.

Well, a 3,000-pound bull couldn’t sideline Ventresca, but a tick was able to do the dastardly deed. In late 2011, Mike fell ill. He was sore and achy and had a complete absence of energy.

“I thought the soreness was just arthritis setting in,” he said. “I figured the loss of get-up-and-go was just the fact that I was getting older.”

He went from doctor-to-doctor and was misdiagnosed over and over again. Finally, a doctor determined he might be suffering from Lyme disease. In April 2012, Ventresca had to quit his current full-time job because he just didn’t have the strength. He’s been home for a year now.

“Mike is a great guy and a great outdoorsman,” said Babe Winkelman, who has fished with Ventresca. “It is unfortunate that the medical community so often does not recognize when a person has Lyme disease. It is most important that this disease gets treated as soon as possible. It can be fatal, you know.”

“Mike is one of my best friends,” said McHenry’s Spence Petros, a Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer. “It’s awful to see what this disease is doing to him. He can’t fish, and he didn’t even go out and hunt one time this past year. Being sidelined is eating him up. He loved talking to all the people at Rosemont. I pray he can recover.”

After seeing many doctors, Ventresca is seeing a Lyme disease specialist in Wisconsin next week and hopes he can get some relief from his pain and be put on the road to recovery.

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