Yesterday, Kim Sunée, Anna Thomas, and I cooked dinner for the firemen at Station 4 in Anchorage. Start to finish, we had a great time; from menu planning to watching firemen enjoy their food.
Our firehouse cooking adventure started with a gym conversation between Neil Gunn, Sunée’s boyfriend, and Neil’s friend, Greg Wahlman, who was about to celebrate his fifth anniversary as a fireman. Greg told Neil about an Anchorage firehouse tradition: firemen celebrating anniversaries must cook a special dinner for their fellows. Neil described Sunée’s cooking prowess. One thing led to the next, and by the time he arrived home, Neil had volunteered Sunée and I to cook Greg’s anniversary dinner.
Cooking for firemen sounded like a fun time (and it was). We immediately started planning a menu. Sunée invited Anna Thomas, a fabulous baker, to join us and make dessert. I agreed to make appetizers and salads. Sunée made Provençal Beef Stew (Daube) and pasta, starting with 18 pounds of fresh meat.
The day of the dinner, we’d hardly stepped through the firehouse door than we were surrounded by a fire crew ready to pitch in and help cook. “We’re firemen. We take orders very well,” was the day’s refrain (sometimes with an addendum, “I’m married, I take directions well”). The men dove into washing, chopping, melting, and mixing. The kitchen was a hubbub of activity.
Just then, lights started flashing, bells ringing, and the intercom squawking. Within seconds, the room emptied out, as firemen raced out to answer a call, lights and sirens blazing. Sunée, Anna, and I kept cooking and, after about an hour, the crew returned and once again dove into helping. Another call came in and, once again, we lost most of our workers.
By this time, Lyle had arrived. Lyle is a fireman’s son and interested in becoming a professional chef. Last summer, he took a cooking class at UAA and learned how to make puff pastry. I’d met Lyle at a recent Barnes & Noble book signing event and invited him to come cook with us.
I put Lyle in charge of making Spanakopita. I figured if he could make puff pastry, he could certainly work with filo dough. Lyle was amazing. He immediately picked up how to do a task that many adults are afraid to try. His concentration was impressive; despite having one arm in a cast, Lyle worked steadily, efficiently, and productively. The Spanakopita were absolutely delicious. Lyle clearly has the capacity to be an excellent chef. I can’t wait to see what he does with his life.
For appetizers and salads, I made a selection of recipes from my book, Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska: Roasted Olives, Beets and Skordalia, Spanakopita, Carrot, Radish and Caper Salad, Romaine, Dill and Lettuce Salad.
I also made my favorite pâté from one of my favorite cookbooks: Pork and Chicken Liver Terrine with Turmeric Pickled Onions from Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis (Artisan 2010). Call it pâté, call it terrine, or call it meatloaf with a fancy name, the recipe makes terrific food. The firemen loved it (so did I). They slathered artisan-style bread with Dijon mustard, added a slice of pâté, and topped the whole thing with plenty of pickled onions. I was hoping there’d be leftovers. No such luck. Guess I’ll have to make the terrine again soon!