An estimated 1,000 people came to Pines Manor in Edison, NJ, to taste the results of 24 teams of New Jersey fire departments and the retires union competing in a friendly but fierce cooking competition Monday.
Hosted by the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the ninth Annual “Cooked & Uncorked” festival raised money for the NJ FMBA Foundation and the St. Barnabas Burn Foundation.
Patterson’s fire department took home first place in the firehouse category by serving up tomahawk short ribs braised with red wine and cherries, whipped mashed potatoes and glazed vegetables. It was the third first-place win for the fire department.
Morristown won the gourmet category with an Asian-inspired poke dish. Why poke?
“I don’t know,” said Scott Loyek of the Morristown Fire Department as he assembled a plate with raw fish and rice. “We were trying to do something extra.”
Rahway earned first place in the dessert category with a chocolate brownie made with Baileys Irish Cream that was served with cups of espresso spiked with Kahlua, vanilla vodka and more Baileys.
The People’s Choice Award went to Union, which dished out smoked whole hog with Grandma Holder’s cheesy green rice and pickled onion slaw. (Rice recipe courtesy of Union Fire Department’s Thomas Holder’s grandmother.)
Other winning departments included Elizabeth (second place, dessert), Roselle (second place, firehouse and second place, people’s choice) Clifton (second place, gourmet), Long Branch (third place, firehouse), Bayonne (third place, gourmet) and New Brunswick (third place, people’s choice).
Food and firefighting have a connection, as eating together is important to firefighters, according Jay Lombardi, a Carteret firefighter and the event’s chair.
“I do miss the cooking part,” said Lombardi, who participated in the competition during the previous years before chairing for the first time this year. “To cook, it kind of takes your mind off everything, puts you at ease. You forget all the bad stuff.”
It’s not uncommon to be sitting down for a meal when the alarm goes off, he said, sending firefighters out on an emergency call. “Knowing we’re coming back to the firehouse to a home-cooked meal also provides great comfort.”
Besides showing off their culinary talents, Cooked & Uncorked is a chance for New Jersey firefighters from different departments to see each other outside of work. Most times when people from different fire departments are together, it’s because they need to help someone who is in trouble, Spencer Maran of the South Orange Fire Department explained.
“It’s fun for everyone to come out and enjoy themselves,” he said. “With this, we can come together and have fun with people you don’t normally get to have fun with. “
Participating fire departments this year included Bayonne, Clifton, East Orange, Hamilton, Millburn, New Brunswick, Plainfield, South Orange, Belleville, Cranford, Hillside, Long Branch, Maplewood, Montclair, Morristown, Paterson, Roselle, Union, Elizabeth, Harrison, Linden and Rahway.
In addition to the cookoff entries, there were several Garden State food vendors, restaurants and beverage distributors offering tastes of local cuisine, beer, wine and liquor.
Guest judges included retired New York Giants Bart Oates and David Diehl; Ray Cooney of the New York City Fire Department; AJ Fusco, a career firefighter and food blogger for Forks and Hose; and radio celebrities Joe Nolan, Shelly Sonstein and Bill Spadea.
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