Fayette County

At Lexington firehouses, cooking brings togetherness, unique challenges

Cooking at Lexington Fire Station One

Firefighters worked to prepare a big meal on Christmas Day at Lexington Fire Department Station One.
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Firefighters worked to prepare a big meal on Christmas Day at Lexington Fire Department Station One.

When dinnertime rolls around, the kitchens of firehouses across the city fill with firefighters whether it’s a weekday, holiday or weekend.

Most stations have a designated cook who usually prepares when they’re on shift, and those cooks face several unique challenges.

Firefighter Brian Dalton does the majority of the cooking for coworkers during his shift at Lexington Fire Department Station No. 1 on East Third Street.

“The sheer volume makes it a little more of a task,” Dalton said.

As opposed to cooking for a family of four, firehouse cooks generally are feeding 10 to 20 firefighters.

It’s not just the number of people that increases the amount of food, Dalton said. It’s how much each individual eats.

If a recipe says four servings, it serves two firefighters, he said.

For some fire stations, cooks like to keep it simple rather than following complicated recipes, Dalton said.

When I started on as a firefighter I couldn’t boil water. But when you’re here with a bunch of hungry guys, you’ve got to learn.

Firefighter Shawn Holloway

“These guys are meat and potato guys,” he said. “Sometimes we do different things, but most of the time we stick to the meat and two vegetables to avoid complaining.”

One of the challenges of cooking at a firehouse is the high likelihood of interruption. Whether it is a structure fire or a medical run, emergencies do not stop just because it is dinnertime for firefighters.

“We could be in the middle of cooking and get a run,” Dalton said. “If it’s a fire we all clear out.”

If possible, the firefighters try to leave one person to keep an eye on the cooking, Dalton said. If no one can stay, they turn off what they’re cooking.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to eat a meal where we didn’t get called off in the middle of cooking in the last 12 shifts,” said firefighter Shawn Holloway.

Throughout the department, certain cooks are well known for their talents. Holloway is known for finding new and creative ways to make a dish.

“A recipe is just something someone else wrote down because that’s what they thought tasted good,” Holloway said. “You can can change it and experiment.”

He has been the primary cook for the department-wide Christmas party for firefighters and their families for several years. That means preparing massive quantities of food.

Dec. 17, the day of the party, every available surface in the kitchen at Station No. 11, on Harrodsburg Road, was covered in pots and pans as Holloway cooked for the party.

Throughout the department, certain cooks are well known for their talents. Shawn Holloway is known for finding new and creative ways to make a dish.

“When I started on as a firefighter I couldn’t boil water,” Holloway said as he rolled his third pan-full of pigs in a blanket. “But when you’re here with a bunch of hungry guys, you’ve got to learn.”

Holloway ran out of stove space, so he was cooking a pot of green beans on the grill outside.

“Guys on the department are always trying to buy the recipe,” he said while stirring the beans. “It has special spices, so they taste just like your grandmother’s cooking.”

Though they spend a lot of dinners away from their families, Dalton said firefighters who work together become like family.

“We eat family style, we cook all the food and you serve yourself out of the pots,” Dalton said. “Everybody sits here at the tables in the kitchen, and we eat together. That’s the one time of the day everybody kind of gets together.”

Recipes from Lexington Firefighters

Smoke showin’ chili by Assistant Chief Harold Hoskins

5 pounds ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 large bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup chili powder (add more to taste)

2 teaspooons garlic powder

Salt and pepper

2 packages French’s Chili-O-mix

2 large cans whole tomatoes

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

2 15-ounce cans chili hot beans

3 or 4 hot peppers (green chilies, cayenne, jalapenos or habaneros), chopped

2 46-ounce cans tomato or V-8 juice

Brown the ground beef, onion, mushrooms and bell pepper with garlic and chili powder. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drain. Add Chili-O mix, and brown an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, chopped hot peppers and tomato juice. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, cover and simmer for at least 2 hours. Chili can be “tamed” by reducing or removing the hot peppers, reducing the black pepper, or using only 1/4 cup of chili powder. Serve with grated Colby cheese, crackers or pimento cheese sandwiches. Rolaids for dessert. Feeds a 2-company house.

Chicken Acapulco by Assistant Chief Harold Hoskins

1 medium onion, chopped

8 ounces sour cream

1 can chopped green chilies

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 cups chopped, cooked chicken (about 2 pounds)

10 7-inch flour tortillas

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/3 cup milk

1 can cream of chicken soup

In a large saucepan, sauté onion in butter. Stir in the sour cream, chilies, oregano, salt and pepper. Add chicken. Spoon approximately 1/2 cup of the mixture in the center of each tortilla. Roll and place in oven-proof baking dish. Combine the cheese, milk and soup. Spoon sauce over the rolled tortillas. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Firehouse potato salad by firefighter Joseph Mouser

2 pounds red potatoes, cooked and cooled completely

1/4 cup celery, finely chopped

1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (reserve a little for garnish, optional)

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons red hot wing sauce (more to taste)

1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped (more for garnish, optional)

Large pinch cayenne pepper (more to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes into bite-size pieces in a large bowl. Add the celery, onion, and bacon. Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, wing sauce, chives, and cayenne pepper. Spoon it over the potato mix and gently fold until everything is well combined. Refrigerate at least one to two hours to allow the flavors to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with additional hot sauce and garnish with more bacon and chives if desired.

Banana bread by firefighter Paul K. Preston

3 bananas, peeled and sliced

3 cups self-rising flour

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons baking powder (optional)

2 tablespoons vanilla

Grease 3 bread pans and lightly flour. Mix all ingredients into a bowl and blend. Divide batter evenly among 3 pans. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, depending on oven. Check with toothpick; when it comes out clean, bread is done. Cool and slice .

Avocado cookies by firefighter Nick Bodkin

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 avocados

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

12 ounces chocolate chips

Mix flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat avocado, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Cook at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. These will burn before looking done because they stay soft for days.

Chicken pot pie by firefighter Nick Bodkin

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

5 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cubed

1 cup sliced carrots

1 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup sliced celery

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1 3/4 cups chicken broth

2/3 cup milk

For the crust: In a large bowl, with a pastry cutter, gradually work the shortening into the flour for about 3 or 4 minutes, until it resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat egg with a fork and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add cold water, vinegar and salt. Stir together gently until all the ingredients are incorporated. Separate the dough into thirds. (Note: Separating it into thirds will result in three thin crusts. If you prefer a more substantial crust, separate it in half.) Form 3 evenly sized balls of dough and place each dough into a large Ziploc bag. Using a rolling pin, slightly flatten each ball of dough (about ½ inch thick) to make rolling easier later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. (If you will be using it immediately, it’s still a good idea to put dough in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes to chill.) When you are ready to use the dough to make a crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes. On a floured surface, roll the dough, starting at the center and working your way out. (Sprinkle some flour over top of the dough if it’s a bit too moist.) If the dough is sticking to the countertop, use a metal spatula and carefully scrape it up and flip it over and continue rolling until dough is about ½ inch larger in diameter than your pie pan. With a spatula, lift the dough carefully from the surface of the counter into the pie pan. Gently press the dough against the corner of the pan. Go around the pie pan pinching and tucking the dough to make a clean edge.

For the filling: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, peas, and celery. Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside. In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper and celery seed. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. Place chicken mixture in pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.