Cooking With Fire
Shreveport firefighters to launch food show
Tucked away in the kitchen drawers and cabinets in most fire stations are treasured recipes handed down from generation to generation. Similar to family recipes passed down through the years, firefighters have their own traditions centered on food and breaking bread with each other. Three firefighters with the Shreveport Fire Department and one former Shreveport firefighter are introducing viewers to the culinary world inside firehouses with their show, Cooking with Fire. Originally a web series, it’s currently being shopped around to various networks, such as Food Network and A&E.
“The meal is one of the most important things at a fire station because that’s when you have time to kind of relax, decompress, come together as a family, get to know your brother and sister firefighters. That’s our downtime, unless a run comes in, to kind of talk and visit,” said Shreveport Fire Department Captain Allen Dantes. “There are so many unique dishes that are cooked at a firehouse that are passed down from generations of firefighters. I can remember back 30 years ago when I was a rookie, stuff that was cooked that I had never heard of or eaten before but now I cook it myself because I learned to cook it at a firehouse.”
Cooking with Fire is the brainchild of Dantes. A fan of food and travel shows, the idea came to Dantes who then shared the concept with his wife, Jeanie. She encouraged him to follow the idea, since there isn’t anything like it on television.
“I told my wife, I don’t know how to do any of this. We googled and researched and called to see what it would cost to have a pilot made, and it was like a ton of money. I said, ‘you know what? We have people in the fire department that know how to do all this,’” he said.
Dantes realized all the talent and skill set needed to produce the show was right there within the fire department and he began recruiting a team: Mark Myers, Jr. is a chef having appeared on cooking shows Guy’s Grocery Games and MasterChef. TraJuan White has a photography and videography business, White Prophecy. And John Phelan already had experience with producing videos and running a YouTube channel.
They met with the city of Shreveport’s attorney to discuss the legality of producing a show within the fire department. They were put in touch with Shreveport native Laurie Muslow with It’s All Good Entertainment in Los Angeles and Muslow was immediately interested. Muslow now is a co-executive producer for the show, which signed with the television production company, KT Studios.
The web series, originally dubbed Firehouse Food Destinations, combined food as well as travel by introducing audiences to each city’s culture through the local fire department. For their first episode, the team visited the Natchitoches Fire Department in December 2017 and learned how to make meat pies over crawfish etouffee.
“The cool thing is, traveling to different stations and different regions, there’s all kinds of food from different cultures,” White said. “We did an episode here at station 20 with Captain Jeff. He catches hogs and he came to the station and actually cooked a whole hog that he caught.”
The visit in Natchitoches was action packed as the station’s firefighters had to make a run right in the middle of making dinner — something that often happens.
“The reason why we cook pots of things is because, not only is it easy, but it’s quick,” Myers said. “You don’t know if you’re going to get a run or not. So, you need something quick, something you can throw in a big pot and everybody can grab some, get it on the table and start eating.”
Firefighters also have to be thrifty when it comes to meal planning. A common misconception is that firehouses are granted a budget for groceries, but when you see a group of firefighters shopping at the store, the food they’re buying comes directly out of their pockets.
“We decide what we’re going to eat, go to the store and buy the stuff to make it,” Dantes said. “When we come back from the store, we take the dinner bill and see how many people are eating and we divide it up by the number of people eating. We pay our own dinner bill.”
Myers said trips to the grocery store are a great part of the dinner experience at a firehouse because it’s an opportunity to meet with people in the district they serve and practice some public relations in the process. “You get to engage with the public,” he said. “We shop at the same grocery stores that are in our district and we get to meet with the people that are around us in the district of our firehouse. That’s unique.”
“Sometimes, we’re grocery shopping and we catch runs at the grocery store so we have to leave our buggy there,” White adds.
The next step for the Cooking with Fire team depends on which network they choose as their partner. KT Studios CEO and executive producer for Cooking with Fire, Stephanie Lydecker, said the show should connect with audiences because of its focus on two things: food and heroes. “We are really identifying the ones who are legitimate, extraordinary world class chefs and showing the camaraderie and the fun that goes along with what we all anticipate as a firehouse as a whole,” Lydecker said. “But also, these are the guys that put their lives on the line every day for us. So, what better way to celebrate than through amazing cooking.”
Although Dantes has eaten at a variety of restaurants, he said there are some dishes that have been perfected by his fellow firefighters. For instance, retired Chief Mark Davis makes the best shrimp and grits. Myers has mastered red beans and rice. And chicken spaghetti? Nothing compares to the version served at a firehouse. “Firehouse chicken spaghetti is some of the cheesiest chicken spaghetti ever,” Dantes said. “It’s not good for the waistline, but it’s good going down.”
But not everything served at a firehouse is a hit — just ask Myers. “Of course, we have the peas and sausage, which I do not like. It’s black eyed peas and sausage. That’s it. I’m like, and what else? Nothing, just peas and sausage.”
According to Lydecker, audiences likely can anticipate the show to air in 2020 but for now fans can check out a teaser trailer for Cooking with Fire on its Facebook page, FireHouse Food Destinations.
“The show shines a positive light on the city. It shines a positive light on that fire department and the citizens or viewers can see what goes on inside that firehouse in a 24-hour shift,” Dantes said. “We want to appeal to a lot of different audiences — highlight the city to appeal to travelers and highlight what goes on in the firehouse to people that are just curious about a firefighter’s life and a station’s life.”