By Heather Darata
Salt Lake City Fire Department Stations 5 and 8 put their cooking skills to the test in June as part of the reality TV show pilot Dining With The Chief, each battling for the prize and the prospect of Fire Chief Kurt Cook’s praises ringing in their ears.
Familiar with a producer for LENZworks, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, firefighter/ paramedic Rob Stafford, part of the team at Station 8, helped get the competition rolling. Dining With The Chief is a spin-off of LENZ-works’ pilot Dining With The Dean, which focused on college students cooking for the dean.
“We brought the idea to the chiefs and they loved it,” Stafford said.
Before making their cooking talents public, Chief Cook made sure that the competition wouldn’t impact their No. 1 priority— serving the public.
“This didn’t impact any of our service delivery,” he said.
With fire department approval and Station 8 already on board, it was only natural for Station 5 to take part in the friendly competition. The stations are about two miles apart and on the outskirts of the city proper.
“We’re kind of their nemesis, rival,” said Station 5 heavy rescue team firefighter/chef Mike Berry. “They put it all together and wanted us to be a part of it.”
The rules were clear: Each station was given $30 and three hours to cook a three-course meal for Chief Cook—without knowing what the chief’s likes and dislikes are. There would be a secret ingredient identified once they returned from shopping. The clock started ticking when they left to buy groceries.
“When we got back there was the secret ingredient on the counter, which was coconut,” Berry said.
Camera crews shadowed the two teams of eight from start to finish, catching the competition and capturing each team’s ideas to incorporate the mystery ingredient in two of their three courses. Practical jokes were expected by both sides.
At the start of the contest, Station 8’s team was dealt a blow when after returning from shopping they discovered their oven’s control nobs missing. Although neighboring Spring Mobile Ballpark was willing to pitch in, camera crews were unwilling to relocate. The culprits at Station 5 relented—the nobs were hidden in Station 8’s own kitchen.
“It didn’t hold us back much,” said Station 8 paramedic/firefighter Ryan Curtis.
Retaliation came quickly when Station 8 firefighters turned off the gas at Station 5, shutting down the stove. Quick to figure out the problem, Station 5’s stove was back on within minutes.
“We clearly outcooked, outpranked, and outclassed them,” said Station 5 heavy rescue team firefighter Paul Koetitz.
In between the pranks and cooking, calls came in for both stations, requiring response but luckily not the kind that emptied the stations.
“I think it was a perfect scenario the way everything shook out,” Stafford said.
Done on time, each station packaged its food in insulated to-go boxes and delivered them to Station 1 where a hungry Chief Cook was ready to sample what was brought to a table decorated by white linen and candles. The food was taken from the boxes and served on silver platters. The chief’s bites were the real thing.
“You only get that one chance to make that first impression,” Chief Cook said. “You only get one chance to film that piece: no takeovers.”
Station 5 brought coconut sauce covered bacon wrapped dates, cornmeal crusted halibut and mixed vegetables in a balsamic butter sauce, and coconut cheesecake quesadilla.
Station 8’s kitchen produced pork, apple, and coconut stuffed potstickers, Oakley chicken (pork stuffed chicken breast), thrice-baked potatoes, sauteed green beans, and coconut eclair pie.
“They had no idea (of my tastes),” Chief Cook said. “The meals were prepared very exquisitely. I was completely surprised and amazed. I’m not a big fan of coconut but they put it to great use.”
The hardest part for the teams was waiting for the winner to be chosen (the team with two or three dishes selected) and ignoring their growling stomachs—the fast pace had kept both stations from eating much all day.
“It (waiting for Chief Cook’s decision) was more nerve wracking than I thought it was going to be,” Stafford said.
The grand prize of $3,000 was donated to the winning station’s charity of choice—in this case, the University of Utah Health Care Burn Camp.
“It was a great experience for the crews,” Chief Cook said. “The camaraderie and rivalry were well represented. I’m glad we did it.”
Want to find out who won? Vote for your favorite menu items in the three categories by visiting naedjournal.org and then check back to find out the team taking the cake—the chief’s and yours. A clip from the show will be available at a later date on our website.