Firefighter chefs went head to head last Wednesday at the Fairway Firefighter Food Face-Off in Red Hook, and your culinary correspondent was on the scene as a “celebrity” judge.
Sweating over the barbecues were four teams of smoke eaters from firehouses in Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook. Joining me at the judging table were Red Hook Star-Revue publisher George Fiala and two Fairway functionaries — look, the supermarket’s publicity people called us celebrities, not me. Not being one to ever miss an appeal to my ego or an offer of free food, they had me at “barbecue.”
The three courses of burgers, chicken, and ribs came on plates tagged just with numbers to obscure their teams of origin. At high noon — well, a little after — the burgers came out and the gluttony got going whole hog.
The competition, as you might imagine, was heated, but the crown jewel came early in the form of a hamburger topped with cheese and bits of perfectly seasoned steak. That might sound like more than enough artery-coating punch packed into one sandwich, but the mouth-watering package concealed an even more decadent surprise, as I learned when I bit into the beef patty and out gushed melted cheese. I couldn’t eat the whole thing — I needed to save room — but I could easily have demolished that burger in minutes.
The chicken round is a bit of a blur, but the same crew who made my favorite burger were also behind the best chicken dish, strips of grilled breast in a small flour tortilla. Team Two, those mad geniuses, had taken the lead, in my mind at least.
Before the ribs came I wasn’t sure if I could go on, but when those glistening slabs of meat appeared before me, I found the fortitude, and room in my tummy, to continue. Once more Team Two blew me away, this time with a rack of ribs tenderer than a Conor Oberst album.
The organizers tallied the judges’ marks, but I had no doubts: Team Two was in it to win it. The identity of that team was another story, so the suspense was as thick as barbecue smoke as we waited for the teams to be unveiled and the winner announced.
The boys of the Brooklyn Heights’ Engine 224 turned out to be the tongs behind Team Two and they cleaned up, winning all three categories. The Heights grill gurus took home top prize last year, too, and immediately upon hearing of their latest win they vowed to make next year’s contest a three-peat.
“We needed everybody to get this done, and collectively we did a great job,” said a triumphant Rob Scally, as he and his compatriots collected the trophy from Borough President Adams. “See you next year!”
The victors took home a $500 grocery gift card and named the group Friends of Firefighters to get a portion of an Aug. 20 fund-raiser. Me, I got extremely full and ever-so slightly more famous.
To the publicity people reading this, I certainly wouldn’t mind getting invited back next year. I should have that burger worked off by then.