| When Chef Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network fame visited last May, fire fighter Jim Rothgery, the chef on duty at West Palm Beach, FL Local 727 firehouse 3, planned a meal that included some of his shift’s favorite dishes, including chicken marsala, garlic mashed potatoes, string beans and—a specialty of Captain Brad Fabben’s—pineapple pie.
De Laurentiis wanted to experience a typical firehouse dinner, from planning the meal through joining the fire fighters at the dinner table. She thought she might have a cooking tip or two to share as well.
“A lot of the guys like the chicken marsala,” says Rothgery. “When I show up, the fire fighters say, ‘Jimmy’s here…let’s have him cook the chicken marsala.’ They like it because it’s a good all-around home-cooked meal.” Likewise, he says, “They all love the Captain’s special dessert.”
Acting as firehouse chef suits Rothgery, a former saute chef at a four-star Italian restaurant in Boca Raton. However, fire fighting beckoned: “If I have to work in the heat, I’d rather be a fire fighter!” he says. He has been with the Palm Beach fire department for four years.
Chef De Laurentiis accompanied Rothgery on the grocery shopping trip. But when canned gravy hit the cart, De Laurentiis objected. She wanted fresh gravy from scratch. Rothgery pointed out that convenience matters in the firehouse. “We’re on calls,” he said. “We can’t sit around all day and make gravy.”
De Laurentiis also pushed for more natural and organic foods, but Rothgery explained time limitations require them to “shop at what’s within our zone,” where organic and natural foods are not easy to find.
The fire fighters he cooks for are very interested in eating healthy, says Rothgery. “We try to grill a lot of the food. We stay away from fried foods and lots of carbohydrates, and we substitute more veggies for the rice and pasta.”
Captain Fabben reports that De Laurentiis’ visit gave the fire fighters new, healthy ideas. “Giada is a great person and they had a great experience with her helping out at the fire station that day. She ‘corrected’ some of their eating habits and gave them cooking tips.”
And the meal itself? De Laurentiis thought the mashed potatoes were too garlicky: Tip: “If the smell of garlic overpowers every other smell, you’ve used too much.” De Laurentiis also favors “smashed potatoes” over mashed: “They’re lighter and less gummy because they’re not stirred so much.” And she thought the pineapple pie looked too bland, “like scrambled eggs.” Tip: “Top it with fresh fruit and some chocolate. No dessert should be all one color.”
Rothgery chuckles: “I noticed she had two helpings of the pie.”
Click for chicken marsala and pineapple pie recipes.