On Monday, October 22, 2012 amidst the sophisticated, ruby red décor of Crimson, firefighters stepped out of their firehouses and into the spotlight to take home big honors for their incredible cooking talent at our 11th Annual Iron Skillet® Cook Off. You may be familiar with culinary competitions like Food Network’s Chopped or televised throwdowns between professional chefs, but the Iron Skillet® Cook Off differentiates itself from the pack of culinary competitions by focusing on the camaraderie, spirited brotherhood, and jovial nature of the firehouse cooking clan. And it comes across in the food. At the competition, five firehouse chefs were matched up with five top restaurant chefs to see who could make the most crowd-pleasing dish of the night. The firehouse chefs supplied the original recipe and the professional chefs were charged with reinventing it, making it better (if they dared). The winners of the night were everywhere – in the chef coats, in the sponsor booths, and on stage. Everyone who came added to the lighthearted, but heartfelt spirit of the night. The smells and sights of the dishes – fried chicken with sweet potato waffles, skirt steak with burgundy cream sauce, and smothered pork chops – permeated the restaurant with an intoxicating breeze that we swear could be smelled throughout the five boroughs.
At World Cares Center we’ve managed to pull off the impossible: to host a night filled with sumptuous food and jovial spirits that reenergizes our serious mission of providing training in emergency preparedness for emergency managers, community leaders, and concerned citizens. This evening would not have been possible without the connection between the emergency response community, our corporate sponsors, and the everyday heroes that came out to support us. For this one night, we saw the wonderful dichotomy of the firefighter spirit. Two sides of the same coin: the ever-present professional emergency responder and the lighthearted, spirited community member. As Lisa Orloff, Founder and Executive Director of World Cares Center put it, “the Iron Skillet® Cook Off represents what we see in any crisis situation, people of all walks of life coming together to do good. The event is a celebration, in disaster response it is the visceral goodness in people that World Cares center ensures is applied in a safe, effective and coordinated manner.”
A Tribute to Everyday Heroes
The night was a tribute to the everyday hero. Queens Council member Peter F. Vallone Jr. and his two brothers, Perry Vallone and Paul Vallone, were honored for their quick thinking and ready response in saving two young girls in rough waters off Long Branch, NJ. The award was given among their peers – a room full of heroes that demonstrated their unwavering commitment to emergency preparedness and effective training for emergency response.
It’s telling that the top chef of the night, Iron Skillet® champion Khalid Baylor from Ladder 14 in Manhattan, made a dish that comforts the soul as much as it tempts the palate. Chef Baylor’s Lemongrass Fried Chicken with Sweet Potato Waffles and a Peach Schnapps Compote caused the crowd to sigh with a collective southern swoon that comes from food that truly satisfies. To win, Chef Baylor took a heaping spoon of southern roots, a cup of grandma’s cooking wisdom, and a pinch of love for baking, and put it all into a spectacular dish that had guests begging for more. Second place went to firefighter Pete Lazarcheck from Engine 291 in Queens for his Skirt Steak with Burgundy Cream Sauce. Pete’s restaurant competitor, Matt Gibson from Legends Hospitality at Yankee Stadium, took third place for his rendition of the skirt steak dish.
Celebrity Judges Bring the Sparkle & Sizzle
Rounding out the night was a raucous live auction that included hilarious commentary by our guest judges who acted as auctioneers. Ben Aaron, an NBC Universal reporter, got the crowd in a bidding war over the auction’s choice items including sports memorabilia, international trips, and entertainment packages. Our panel of celebrity judges included radio/television personality Valerie Smaldone, who served as emcee for the night, Council member Peter J. Vallone Jr., WPIX 11 reporter Sukanya Krishnan, Former NHL player (New Jersey Devils) Grant Marshall, NBC Universal reporter Ben Aaron, WNYC Radio host Soterios Johnson, former NFL player (NY Jets) Freeman McNeil, Former NFL player (Washington Redskins) Thomas Huff, NBC 4 consumer reporter Lynda Baquero, and NFL player (NY Giants) Stevie Brown. Restaurant owner and chef, Adrianne Calvo was a celebrity guest chef providing tasty nibbles for the crowd throughout the night.
As returning judge Sukanya Krishnan said on her WPIX 11 morning show, “I’ve had the privilege of serving as a judge for the competition and let me tell you the food is fantastic, the people are wonderful and it all goes for an organization that’s really making a difference.” Each year, the competitors manage to put more love, more flavor, and more life into their cooking. We thank all our firehouse and restaurant chefs, our generous corporate sponsors, our celebrity guests, and our volunteers for an incredible night of spectacular food and exceptional company. The proceeds from the event will help us continue to provide the best in emergency and disaster training, helping to empower leaders and volunteers to become ready responders. See you all next year for our 12th annual Iron Skillet® Cook Off!