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Firefighters Flex Culinary Muscles in Annual Cook-Off Competition

By Della Hasselle | October 21, 2010 3:38pm

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

SOHO — Dozens of New York City's bravest traded in their axes for aprons Wednesday night as they competed in the fourth annual Firefighter Cook-Off to raise money for charity in SoHo.

Attendees paid up to $75 a ticket at the New York Fire Museum to watch firefighters from the five boroughs flex their culinary muscles over steamy hot plates brimming with foods from all over the world. The participants whipped up dishes originating from as far away as Thailand and as nearby as grandma’s New York kitchen.

Firefighter Stephen Bowles took home the first place prize of an engraved copper skillet for his jambalaya recipe, which featured Andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken and spicy Cajun seasonings. Bowles, from the Bronx’s Ladder 17, said he was influenced by the time he spent in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"It definitely made me want to make a lot more gumbo and stuff," Bowles, who has been in the FDNY for 20 years, told DNAinfo. "They’re good people — they do good for themselves."

William Benitez, from Manhattan Ladder 1, took home second place with his shredded beef dish with pickled vegetables and a Sriracha cream sauce.

Benitez said meal time at the firehouse was important and builds camaraderie.

"It's the one time during the day, whether its lunch, dinner or breakfast where the guys can get together and talk about the firehouse — and other things too," said Benitez, who's been with the FDNY for almost nine years. "It’s important."

Paul Rut took home third place with his pernil (pulled pork) and piña colada rice recipe from Cuba.

"It’s like goin’ to the islands," boasted Rut, a 13-year veteran at the FDNY's Special Operations Command unit based in Roosevelt Island. "It’s like a little vacation in your tummy."

Most of the time, though, the dishes firefighters cook need to conform to their hectic schedules.

"Most of the time we have to make stuff that can sit while we’re on the go," firefighter Aaron Clark, who made Peas Mac n Cheese, said.

The cook off competition was judged by a panel consisting of Bravo "Top Chef" Ted Allen, Brooklyn-based chocolatier Jacques Torres, and Keith Young, a 12-year FDNY veteran and author of the book "Cooking with the Firehouse Chef."

The proceeds from the event went toward a new marine exhibit planned for the New York Fire Museum.