Southland firehouse chefs invited to cook-off

The best fire station cooks in Southern California are invited to show off their skills and test their mettle against Capts. Craig Nielsen and Mark Curry of the L.A. Fire Department.

Care to test your knowledge of the L.A. food scene?

Check out the following menu offerings and see if you can figure out the dining establishment that offers them.

Carved turkey sandwich with caramelized red onion, arugula and blue cheese crumble dressed in a red wine vinaigrette.

Cilantro-marinade grilled chicken with minced garlic and blended jalapeño cream.

Thai chicken whole wheat pasta with fresh local peppers, onions and mushrooms and asparagus and balsamic drizzle.

Spago Beverly Hills


Michael's Santa Monica

LAFD Station 92

The surprising answer, gluttons and gourmands, is the fire house on Pico near Overland. No kidding.

I know this because I got invited to a dinner at 92 about a month ago. It was a thank you feast, cooked by firefighters for neighbors whose fundraising has paid for tools, a dishwasher, gym equipment and even a portable Jaws of Life.

That night, Capt. Craig Nielsen made enchiladas Suizas with green chiles, Spanish rice and a Mexican salad with jicama, roasted corn and tortilla strips. For dessert, he whipped up some dreamy home-made strawberry shortcake with fresh cream.

It was restaurant-quality, in my humble opinion.

"He's the best chef here," said Jared Cooper, one of three firefighting brothers who followed their dad into the profession.

I like to tinker in the kitchen, so I offered Cooper a recipe that I thought would be a firehouse crowd pleaser. But when I got to dipping chicken in butter and rolling it in bread crumbs and grated Parmesan, he tuned me out.

"Those days are over," Cooper said, telling me that if they weren't cooking for visitors, they would have used brown rice instead of white.

"Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of firemen, so we don't need to contribute to that by clogging our arteries."

Great, but come on. No spaghetti and meatballs? No four-alarm chili or franks and beans? I like Cal-Med cuisine, too, but these guys have a tradition to uphold.

There are still some old-school firehouses, it turns out, where meat and potatoes are followed by more meat and potatoes. Last week, 92's Jon Bowers was in the middle of preparing his cilantro chicken, with sauteed broccoli and cauliflower and a two-bean salad, when a fire call came in. The 92 crew rolled, and before long, two units from 26 rotated in to cover for them from Western and the Santa Monica Freeway. When I asked how they ate back at 26, firefighter Jeff Lore said they had some pork ribs waiting for them on the grill. But do they ever go healthy, like the 92 crew?


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