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Cooking with Firefighters Is Like Family Get-togethers, With Occasional Anxiety: City Juice with John Malik

A few months ago I met some firefighters at the grocery store.

This big red truck was parked outside, and they were shopping for the station. I was surprised to learn that they were responsible for buying their own food. When they shop, they had to do it as a team because if they got a call, everyone would run to the truck. During a 24-hour shift, they would take turns cooking; everyone would clean.

Our city’s fire department is staffed 24 hours a day, and after a 24-hour shift, firefighters get 48 hours off. When they’re not on call or volunteering, firefighters cook, lift weights, do push-ups and prank each other. Lt. Thomas Tardo told me the biggest challenge is living together. These stations may look huge from the road, but the living quarters are tight and carefully organized.

“When the alarm goes off, we have to move within 90 seconds, no matter what,” Tardo explained. “So if we’re cooking, the gas stove automatically turns off, and we drop everything and leave.”

Two minutes after Tardo said the words, the alarm went off, and the guys were moving so fast their shadows had to catch up. When they got back, Corey Bennet, Station 1’s favorite chef, told me about serving dinner.

“No matter what’s going on, we eat together as a family,” Bennett said. “That often means cold food, but we live and breathe as a team and we honor that time together.”

Bennett is simply a very good cook, and if it weren’t for the fire department, he would certainly be a professional chef. While Bennett is cooking, Station 1 is often visited by crews from other nearby stations who come in for dinner. When this happens, the cost is $7 per firefighter; the money goes into the food fund.

Fearing another alarm, I put all the guys to work. They happily sliced ​​up zucchini and squash and rolled them in crushed Doritos. We deep-fried them and served them with Bennett’s first homemade mayo, spiked with fresh jalapenos and lime juice. My friends at Rise Bakery, Naked Pasta, and Revival Butchery donated a ton of produce for dinner, and soon we had pork skewers and Argentine sausage simmering in a pan.

Just as the sausages were starting to smell wonderful, another alarm went off and there was another race to the truck. Maybe an hour later the guys returned. Pasta was buttered, sausages were served with onion jam and Bennett was carving a beautiful rib-eye steak. Plates were piled high, appetites were satisfied and stories were told. One guy was told off for cooking a chicken dish he called “Divorce Chicken,” but the guy who cooked that night produced something closer to “Divorce Dinner.”

While we were laughing, I thought how rare it is to hear of a fire in our city. Tardo agreed.

“We do a lot for the community, and we’d be happy to change the batteries in a smoke alarm for a widow or a busy mom because it means we’re less likely to respond to a catastrophic fire,” Tardo said. “We’d rather prevent a fire than respond to one.”

Lieutenant Thomas Tardo mans the grill.

When my 6:30 dinner ended at 9:00, the guys still had 10 hours left in their shift and were busy with leftovers. We shook hands. Their gratitude was overwhelming and they invited me back—promising they’d do the cooking themselves next time.

“City Juice” is a colloquial term for a glass of tap water served at a bar. John Malik is a culinary consultant and broker with National Restaurant Properties. He can be reached at [email protected].