EDISON, NJ – Food and wine festivals have a unique place in the culinary world. It is one of the few places that bring together so many people that love and care about food, uniting a community of cooks, critics, artisans and foodies. No place celebrates and showcases the spectrum of culinary flavors quite like a food competition.

Firefighting cooks from Paterson and 19 other fire departments throughout New Jersey came together at Pines Manor in Edison to compete in the annual Cooked and Uncorked Food Festival on Feb. 29. The event, in its sixth year, raises money for the New Jersey State Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association and the Saint Barnabas Burn Foundation.

The festival included more than 30 restaurants, 40 wine and spirit distributors, as well as almost 1,000 food lovers who came out to support their favorite chefs and to support the work of the two charitable organizations. 

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The food competition was judged by local notables, including Bart Oates and Mike Murphy of the NY Giants, John MacLean of the  NJ Devils, and TAPinto Food Columnist, Jonathan Sym. 

“We started with six companies [fire departments] when we first started and we have grown every year.” Said Lou LaSalle, Senior Vice President of External Affairs of Barnabas Health. “We worked intensively to put this great event together and will continue to do so in the future.”

This is a an annual Fundraising event sponsored by the New Jersey State Firemen’s Mutual Benefit Association for the benefit of The Burn Unit at St Barnabas Medical Center.

Teams from both Maplewood (Local 25) and South Orange (Local 40) took home honors, with the Maplewood Firehouse winning second place in the People's Choice category for their pulled pork sliders, and South Orange winning second place in the Gourmet category for their savory beef bourguignon.

The People’s Choice first place award went to two-time winner Bayonne (Local 11 and 211) who also won in 2014 and 2015, who prepared a hangar steak with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and stuffed mushrooms. Union (Local 46) came in third.

Other Gourmet category winners were Roselle (Local 55), coming in first place for their fish tacos, and New Brunswick (Local 17 and 217) taking third place.

In the Firehouse Category, Paterson (Local 2) took top honors, Rahway (Local 33) came in second, with Hillside (Local 35) and Long Branch (Local 68) tied for third place.

Both South Orange and Maplewood were represented by teams of four men, that included Lead and Sous Chefs.The Maplewood team competing in the Firehouse Category were Joe Amon, Billy Krueger (Chef), Ciro Durso, and Sal Aliano. The food prepared was Pulled Pork Sliders, which were topped with sauerkraut and sliced pickles and a choice of three different sauces. 

The South Orange team was comprised of David Krugel, Antonio Popola (Chef), Capt. Spencer Maran, and Giovanni Grasso. They prepared Beef Bourguignon, which was served with homemade egg noodles. Popola is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and before joining the fire department, he worked for several top restaurants. Popola said that the beef bones for the broth as well as three large slabs of bacon were donated by Marty, the butcher at Ashley Market in South Orange. 

The festival is expected to raise upwards of $100,000. Co-chairs Robert Hill, a retired Fire Chief from Roselle, and Millburn’s Fire Chief Michael Roberts explained that the event originally started independent of Barnabas Health, raising money through the collection of aluminum cans, which raised over $1 million over the last 10 years.  

“We’ve always wanted to do a cooking competition. So we got together with Barnabas who also thought it was a good idea and decided to raise money together.” Said Chief Roberts. 

Each team represented their departments and towns well. They served restaurant quality dishes and beautifully plated food. Some of the teams even paired their servings with wine and margaritas, which all the judges seemed to enjoy.  It was clear there was a lot of thought that went into the prep and execution of each entry.