This is not Larry. Michael James is a Westwood, CA firefighter, and I cornered him at the grocery store. Firehouse 37 is OUR neighborhood fire department. They were right there when Francoise’ vintage gravity heater blew a fireball, when Margie’s wall was mysteriously smoking, when senior neighbors fall ill and UCLA students do what they do. I personally visit “37” each June with our block party leftovers while Larry cleans up… at home… while I visit firefighters. Good times.
Most afternoons, two fire trucks are parked outside Ralphs Grocery while the firefighters shop for dinner ingredients; the trucks need to be where the firefighters are. Here was my opportunity; I’d been thinking about this for some time. I know they cook; I’ve been to their kitchen. This time, I wanted to blog about it.
Mike (photos) was in the produce section; he gave me his attention once it was obvious I wasn’t going to leave him alone. Here’s the scoop: firefighters take turns making dinner. Tonight, Mike was cooking for 10, down from 14 due to budget cuts for personnel. Each guy puts in $6 for dinner groceries, plus another $4 daily for House Use Items – condiments, man chairs, whatever they need to buy.
Later that evening, Larry and I showed up at 37 (I brought Larry to hopefully offset any impression of a cougar wannabe). Last time I saw the kitchen, it was wild. The TV show Monster House had transformed it, including hand-painted flames on walls. Since then, they calmed it down to a roomy, comfortable, California-style space. Mike was cooking in a kitchen with one wall completely open to a mild November night. Not bad.
Mike claims to not be the best cook, “everyone agrees Chris is the best.” But from what we saw, he was skilled at a complicated task – satisfying grown men with a balanced, flavorful meal on a tight budget.
More complications: recipes must be able to withstand abandonment – when an alarm sounds, everything is turned off and adios. Upon return, pick up where you left off. We learned that for some situations, like major fires, another company will cover the firehouse and if a meal is mid-prep, those firefighters will finish cooking it – and NOT eat it – so it’s ready when our guys return. Fraternal courtesy.
What did Mike prepare that night?
- Chicken breasts, marinated a few hours in Italian dressing and seasonings, charred on the grill, then finished in the oven
- Fresh, whole oven-roasted yams
- Rice pilaf with green onions and mushrooms
- Cheddar biscuits
- Spring Mix salad with sliced Granny Smith apples
So here is my take away: (A) firefighters are adept at making some darn good eats, (B) they buy their own food and (probably) wouldn’t turn down a cake, turkey, leftovers from a trade show or photo shoot, (C ) if you have recipes that are yummy, cost efficient, foolproof or can stop mid-way, share them with your firehouse, and (D) bring gifts – I asked Larry to whip up a batch of his Larry’s Famous Brownies for the visit.