Going back to the very beginning on my first day on the department, there was an older guy in the kitchen. He was standing there with an unlit cigar hanging out of his mouth stirring a pot of gumbo. Waving me in, he asked me how the gumbo smelled. It reminded me of the smell from my grandmother’s kitchen. All of those aromas wafting around made my mouth water. It rekindled something I had forgotten about … how much I enjoyed cooking.
At that point, I already had some experience with firehouse meals. My dad, uncle and brother were all firefighters and also firehouse cooks, so I’d had a meal or two in an engine house. It didn’t take long before I found myself wanting to get back to doing things in the kitchen … things I remembered from spending summers at the lake house (in New Orleans, we call it a “camp.”) When I was younger I was allowed to help in the kitchen there. We cooked every day. Lake Pontchartrain had an abundance of foods to offer and we took full advantage of it. It seemed like every night was a feast. So there I was, years later, once again standing in a firehouse kitchen. It seemed very familiar as it should have. From there I did what I was told. I worked and watched and did my job. I also found myself once again helping in the kitchen.
The interesting thing about the job was that you got to move around a lot. We had to even up the manpower. If you had more men than another crew, you could be detailed to a different house for the day. You experienced working with other guys and also had the opportunity to sample different kitchen skills. One can learn much that way and I did my best to soak it all in. This went on for years until I was eventually stationed in one place. I once again helped in the kitchen and gradually took over the cooking chores.
As with everything, time changes all circumstances. After nearly 24 years on the fire department in New Orleans, I was retiring from the only job I ever really enjoyed doing. Then came the inevitable question. “What now?” When you do the same thing for nearly a quarter of a century and then suddenly find yourself with nothing to do, it’s a difficult adjustment. No more firefighting but at least I could still cook.
I kept busy but still found something lacking. That’s when I began to cook for friends. Nothing huge, just weekend fare for small groups. It was after one of those nights that my wife said to me, “You know… you should write down all of these recipes.” It had never occurred to me but I thought, “Hey, not a bad idea.” That’s how this cookbook idea started.
I had never measured ingredients before. I had never paid attention to the details so this was going to be a challenge. It was in the middle of the first couple of recipes that I noticed how many little things I did without thinking about it. That’s when I knew I had to try to put as many of these details into the book as possible. Every time I went back to cook a recipe again I would add little things here and there. It made some of the recipes look lengthy but I figured it was for the best. The more details I added, the easier it would be for anyone to make each dish. So that’s what I did. Cooked and cooked again while adding little hints so anyone could cook New Orleans firehouse food at home. If I have done my job correctly, it should be Big Easy cooking made easy!
A portion of all proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.