DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - A good firefighter should have several qualities.
He or she needs courage to enter a burning building, strength to carry the heavy gear and dedication to be able to handle the long shifts.
Then there’s a much-appreciated asterisk: cooking skills good enough to feed a station.
“I don’t think people realize how seriously the fire stations take cooking,” said Juliet Brandolino, event coordinator for the Los Angeles Fire Department Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund.
Brandolino would know, as her organization stages the annual Hope for Firefighters, a fundraiser that includes some serious cooking competitions. Hope for Firefighters takes place Thursday, June 6, from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on Hope Street between Third Street and Hope Place.
About 7,000 people are expected to attend the 16th annual Downtown event, which is aimed at thanking the men and women of the LAFD and raising more than $100,000 for the charity. The afternoon includes muster games, in which corporate teams compete in a series of firefighter-related physical challenges, raffles and the sale of LAFD merchandise.
Then there are the food booths, with meals prepared by firefighters from more than 25 stations. In addition to raising cash, the fire personnel are competing in the Best Dessert and Best Food competitions. The winners earn a plaque, though the bragging rights may be the real prize.
“The firefighter culture is very competitive with each other,” Brandolino said. “It’s all in good nature, but they are very competitive.
For firefighter/paramedic Rico Gross of Fire Station 60 in North Hollywood, cooking is about feeding the station, but also family pride.
“My whole family is made up of chefs,” said the 12-year veteran, who last year teamed with firefighter Tai Trinh to cook up the Asian Fusion Tapas Tacos that won the Best Food category.
Gross said he’s been cooking as long as he can remember, and when his station commander last year asked him to step up for the Downtown competition, he was eager. He and Trinh, whose family also works in the food industry, decided to blend their talents.
“He did an Asian short rib and I did a basil garlic shrimp and we put them in tacos with the condiments,” Gross said. “We put one of each on a plate, so you have the yin-yang tacos.”
Gross marinated his shrimp in lemon and orange juice for about 48 hours, then grilled them on a mesquite open flame with a bit of a honey lime sauce. The secret weapon was a chipotle-based sauce.
Trinh marinated his short ribs for four days in a secret sauce he got from his parents.
“He still won’t give me the recipe for that sauce,” Gross marveled.
The tacos brought the victory plaque to Fire Station 60. But just like hockey’s Stanley Cup, it has to be passed on to the next winner.
Normally, firefighter Jose Rodriguez tries to turn down the heat. However, when it comes to his Deep Fried Oreos, which grabbed the Best Dessert plaque last year for Fire Station 12 in Highland Park, it is all about getting things hot and then experimenting
“We started deep frying everything, from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to cheese sticks,” said Rodriguez, who is now a member of Fire Station 50 in Los Feliz.
Rodriguez considers himself a novice cook, but a very serious competitor.
The entire station participated in a daylong taste test last year to decide what deep-fried concoction they would enter. The Oreos were the hands-down winner.
“Then we just had to play with the recipe a little, and before you know it we had it dialed in,” said the five-year LAFD veteran. “We used a waffle batter that worked out perfectly and a little bit of vanilla for the decorative part with whipped cream, powdered sugar and syrup.”
Neither Gross nor Rodriguez will try to defend their title this year. Instead, they’re passing the whisk and knives to other chefs in their stations.
Like Gross, Rodriguez said the best thing about having the plaque is the bragging rights.
“Every time there’s an argument about the kitchen, you can’t argue with the plaque,” Rodriguez said.
Hope for Firefighters is Thursday, June 6, from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 pm. on Hope Street between Third Street and Hope Place. At hopeforfirefighters.org.
Contact Richard Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.