That dreaded day has come. You skated by for weeks or months without cooking a single Firehouse Meal. You have been helping in the kitchen as a faithful assistant by cutting and chopping vegetables and stirring the sauce when the chef was out on a call. But you still refused to cook. Most people don’t venture into the kitchen because they are either too lazy, or they say they don't know how. I'm throwing the BS flag on this one. Everyone knows how to cook something, anything. This is your chance to learn how to put something on the table that others will enjoy.
Word of warning: If you have never cooked for a group of picky people, especially those who complain all the time, then get ready for some good old-fashioned firehouse ridicule. No matter how good your food is or how much you make, some knuckle-head will always complain that it sucks, and yet, he'll go back for seconds. That’s about the only way you will know if your food passes muster.
Why should you put up with this nonsense? You need to do your part. Your mother doesn't work at the fire house to feed you. Besides, at some of the bigger stations, the cook doesn't do dishes or pay for dinner.
Here are some rules to help you manage in the firehouse kitchen.
1. Stay on budget.
We used to collect $5 from every person to cook the meal. Over time, inflation took hold, and $5 didn’t go very far. Numerous times we had to collect $6 or $7 from each person. When this was done, the crew would get pissed off, moan and cry like babies because they had to cough up an extra buck. The complainers usually were the guys that never cooked anyway and their opinion never really mattered to me. What we eventually did was raise the dinner price to $8 per person. If someone was on overtime, that person would throw in an extra $20. If we had several people on OT, we would then eat a great steak dinner and took the left-over money and put in our station savings account, aka "Station Syndicate."
2. Cook whatever you want.
The worst thing you can do is ask the crew, especially a large one, "What do you want for dinner?" Each person will request something different, but no one wants to cook it. If you are the chef for the night, then cook what you want without input.
3. Cook a lot.
Whatever you are cooking, it does not need to be fancy. Just make sure there is plenty for everyone to eat a healthy portion where they can get seconds. If you are lucky, you will have enough leftovers to provide lunch for the next shift.
4. Ask for help.
Most crews are more than willing to help out with the prep work. The prep is what takes the most time; the more help you get, the better off you will be.
5. Eat at a reasonable hour.
Have dinner on the table by 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. I hated eating late. The problem is, if you're not cooking, then you don't have a say. I always had dinner ready by 6:00. That is when normal people eat, not 8:00 p.m. The only exception to this rule is if the entire station is out on a call and gets back late. Sometimes we just ordered pizza and saved the uncooked food for next shift.
6. Just cook something.
If you really are one of those people who really can’t cook because you were bottled fed your whole life, then pick something simple like pasta. You can’t screw that up. Just throw some store-bought marinara sauce in a pan and boil some pasta. Serve with a side of salad and you’re done. Perfect. the crew will love you, and you did your part.
7. Measure portions properly.
The standard rule of 1/4 pound of meat per person is hogwash and doesn't work. Here’s the best way to decide how much meat, vegetables and supplies to buy. Look at the package, decide how much you personally could eat and then multiply that by the amount of people you have to feed. I have used this technique twenty-five years and it worked for me. To be honest, if anything, I probably bought more than I needed, which is way better than not having enough. Use this strategy whenever you buy supplies for dinner. For your convenience, I have provided some tasty, simple, tried-and-true recipes to get you through your first attempts at being chef.
Finish your meal with a great cup of coffee from Rough Shift Roasters!
Mauro Porcelli is the author of the book "Surviving the Firehouse," where he gives great tips on how to survive life, in real world working situations around the fire department.