Firehouse Cooking is so much a part of American culinary and pop culture that one is hard-pressed to think of another occupation besides food service itself that is so bonded to food, recipes and cooking.
Fireman shop, cook, and eat together. It’s the fabric of their social fraternity.
So it’s not altogether a surprise that a major food brand, Steak-umm® -- based a marketing campaign around these culinary champions – (referred to in Gotham as New York’s “Bravest”) for their Firehouse Challenge seeking great recipes made with their steak product http://www.firehousechallenge2014.com
What is surprising is the history of how fireman came to be so closely associated with cooking – and that Steak-umm® is 100% beef – not a hot dog blend of mystery meat.
History of Firehouse Cooking
According to renowned food author, lecturer, educator, and food historian, Andrew F. Smith in his book, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, New York City influenced firehouse cooking not long after the Fire Department was established in 1865.
Firefighters worked and lived together in the firehouse “working nine twenty-four hour days followed by a tenth day off. They were allotted three hours of breaks” daily which could be divided among meals” – and breaks were suspended in the event of a major fire. Cooking in the firehouse at that time was by and large reserved for festive holiday occasions, noted Smith.
However in the 1920’s the fire department changed from a one-platoon to a two-platoon system, whereby firefighters worked alternating twelve-hour shifts, essentially ending the meal breaks and prompting them to eat at the firehouse.
Further marking a work style change was the migration from horse drawn fire engines to motorized hook and ladders which resulted in more space and a cleaner area that allowed the resourceful firefighters to turn into kitchens and dining areas where the stable had been.
According to Smith, they soon began pooling funds to buy equipment – some bringing from home as well as “pooling food.” Often appointing “one man as cook on alternating days.”
Smith writes the city and the union were impressed with the firefighters initiative, recognizing cooking as a way to regain the fraternal sentiment lost in the change from voluntarism to a tightly regulated paramilitary structure and further, cooking and eating together improved the quality of the working day and kept the men together.”
The shared mealtime – often interrupted – also provided diversity training and feedback sessions.”
(Just think what shared cooking and dining can do for families.)
Camaraderie & Feedback.
Celebrity chef Joseph T. Bonanno Jr., known as America’s Greatest Firehouse Chef and a judge for the Steak-umm® Firehouse Challenge, noted in an interview how firehouse cooking started in Philadelphia, also said the feedback is sometimes too real.
He cited the firehouse in the South Bronx and their “Wall of Shame” as an example of a tough crowd.
“If they don’t like the meal, they’ll ask, ‘You gotta’ be kiddin’ me’ as they throw the food-filled plates at the Wall of Shame, then label it with the cook’s menu item, as in “Joe’s Meatloaf,” where it’ll remain for 10 days or so.
Wow. The Times’ Pete Wells comes off as positively angelic in comparison!
Firehouse Chef Joe and Cooking
In addition to shopping, cooking, and eating together, chefs have a history of producing successful cookbooks based on their firehouse recipes.
Chef Joe knew of the bestselling 1980's The Firefighter's Cookbook when he took a class at The New School about how to write a cookbook - and a magic moment occurred when an editorial scout from William Morrow came to the class to hear some book pitches from the students.
He landed a book contract!
Bonanno long had a focus on healthy eating and nutrition while serving 21 years in the New York Fire Department, mostly with Ladder 129 in Flushing, Queens. He is a certified Nutritionist and Fitness Trainer with The American Council on Exercise, a graduate of the Culinary Academy of Long Island, among other titles, and is now the author of two firehouse cookbooks: The Healthy Firehouse
Cookbook: Low-Fat Recipes from America’s Firefighters and The Firehouse Grilling Cookbook, which features more than 150 recipes sources from firefighters across the country and those developed especially to be cooked on the grill.
He has also published a charming children’s book entitled Monutza the Firefighting Elephant, about a city zoo pachyderm who discovers his true self with the help of a fireman, naturally – and soon becomes a fire-fighting hero, too. http://thehealthyfirehouse.com
Hearing that Firehouse Chef Joe served in Ladder 129, this Examiner couldn’t help but ask where he was on September 11th.
The story is that food yet again, saved his life.
As the early morning that day gave way to an impossibly blue azure sky, Chef Joe was a featured guest on the WB11’s TV cooking segment where he was a judge for a Ronzoni pasta Firefighter Cook-Off contest. The network was doing a live remote feature at chef Joe’s FDNY station, Ladder 3.
When the segment concluded, he headed home.
At the same time, the station got the call to head to the World Trade Center. Twelve of the Ladder 3’s firefighters died.
“If I’d waited another minute,” he trails off, not needing to explain more.
As soon as he got home and learned what was going on, he and his firefighter brother Michael “grabbed our gear” and headed downtown. The two brothers were then part of the rescue and recovery operation for the duration of the World Trade Center clean up.
Firehouse Menus and Recipes
Firehouse chef Joe says he used Steak-umms as part of his healthy firehouse menu offerings long before he became involved with this year’s contest.
He recalled how his quest to develop and define a healthy firehouse menu often left him eating by himself.
“I missed the camaraderie,” he lamented.
He recognized he needed to take the wheel.
Despite a rather doomsday Firefighter humor that riffs about how they could all die in the next burning building so it doesn't matter what they eat, Firehouse chef Joe believed he could blend the healthy, workout fitness lifestyle of a firefighter with a window to a more balanced, healthy diet.
He observed that none of New York’s Bravest needed to display expanding waistlines and a growing predilection for heart attacks.
“I saw firehouse cooks peeling sticks of butter like bananas into the stove-top pots,” he noted.
Joe knew there was a better way – roasted garlic vs., so much butter, for example --and despite early skepticism, including the tease, “No one could run through a burning building on bean sprouts," he was soon cooking and sharing his healthy, tasty food with his NYFD company and brothers.
“Firefighters need protein,” Joe said. “Steak-umms is 100% beef” and explained how his quiche made with Steak-umms is essentially steak and eggs. That’s all good for building muscle,” he says, adding, “Steak-umms are quick to make – important for a firehouse recipe – plus the meat is so versatile it goes far beyond a Philly Cheese Steak.”
“Steak-umms are a lot like beef tenderloin – the secret is all in the seasoning and sauce.”
When asked, he cites his favorites Steak-umms recipes are his steak and eggs quiche with asparagus, onions, and garlic, along with Steak-umms tacos.
No stranger to cooking competitions, Firehouse chef Joe has been a contestant in numerous national competitions.
His competitive experience matched with unabashed fervor, he encourages his fellow firefighter companies to enter the Steak-umm Firefighter Challenge.
“Firefighters can win the top prize of $20,000, and the two top runners-up can each earn $2,000.
“You have to run into a lot of burning buildings to make that kind of money!” joked Joe. “Plus you get to have some fun for a good cause. “
Semi-finalists will be determined at a July 19th Cook-Off (Place TBD)
Finalists will be announced in August on the WB11 2014 Emmy® Award-winning The Steve Harvey Show TV show in late August.
Further, the Firehouse Challenge entrant’s recipes with the most Facebook Fan votes will earn $1.00 for every Fan Favorite up to $5,000 that will be donated to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation. One vote per fan per day, starting September 10-30, 2014.
Firehouse chef Joe is one of three judges for the Firehouse Challenge. Joining the judging panel are chef Kevin Sbraga from the Garden State: a winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Washington D.C. and owner of his own Philadelphia restaurant, Sbraga, www.sbragadining.com along with chef Pam Green, Executive Chef, The Sheraton, Atlantic City, also in the Garden State, and food entrepreneur with her line of “Hail Caesar” salad dressings. www.withlovechefp;am.com
The three culinary professional judging panel will look for winning entries that best exemplify and display creativity, presentation, taste and flavor.
Chef Joe explained that in addition, “Twenty-five percent of the judging will be influenced by the firefighter’s stated worthy cause.
Deadlines for contest entry is July 5th.
Steak-umm® vice president Nancy Rubin, said the company determined they wanted to partner with firefighters “Because we felt we had a good connection in terms of food and cooking, firefighters are highly skilled, and they provide an essential service to the community.”
Rubin explained how after the company conducted recent market research, they discovered most folks didn’t realize Steak-umm® is 100% beef : “No water; not processed; the meat is USDA approved and 75% lean beef made from beef trimming after the strip and rib eye are butchered out,” she stated.
“It’s not unlike ground beef hamburger meat – we just sculpt our steak into a sliced form for greater versatility,” Rubin added.
Rubin’s favorite recipe is the Steak-umm® Caprese Wrap with basil and tomatoes. Oh, she is also partial to the Steak-umm® tacos.
Some food for thought – or recipes to inspire firefighters and home cooks:
· Grilled Avocado and Steak-umm® Fajita Wrap
· Steak-umm® Stir Fry
· Philly Cheese Steak-umm® and Pasta
· Steak-umm® Spinach Dip
· Steak-umm® Egg Rolls
RECIPE for Firehouse Chef Joe’s Pasta il Pompiere (Italian for Firefighter) from his cookbook: The Healthy Firehouse:
This recipe was served the morning of September 11, 2001 by Joseph Bonanno to the members of Ladder 3 for a Ronzoni Firefighter Cook Off live TV appearance on WB 11. Twelve firefighters of Ladder 3 were lost in the World Trade Center disaster. This recipe is named in honor of them. May God rest their brave souls.
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
6-8 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 bunch fresh Arugula
1/2 pound fresh Mozzarella, cut into dice sized cubes
1 pound Penne pasta Parmesan cheese to taste
Dried red pepper flakes Heat oil to medium. Add garlic and sauté until just before golden, do not burn. Pour into large bowl. In another bowl, toss tomatoes with salt. Cut Arugula into strips and toss most with tomatoes, saving some to top dish before serving. Mix together with oil, garlic, greens, and tomatoes. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain pasta and immediately; while pasta is hot, mix all ingredients with hot pasta. Toss well to melt cheese, sprinkle top with remaining arugula and red pepper flakes.
How much do we love our Firefighters? Let’s count the ways: They are the bravest; handsome heroes, and smokin’ cooks.
Put a fork in it…
But wait – encourage your Bravest to enter the Firehouse Challenge, Like them on Facebook and watch them bring home the Firehouse winnings.