EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 30, 2013

Firing up the grill

Local chief has recipes featured in new cookbook

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW— They are well known for their ability to put out fires, but the Plaistow Fire Department is now known for something else as well — their skills in the kitchen.

The department is featured in a new cookbook, “Playing with Fires: Firehouse Recipes and Their Chefs.”

Chief John McArdle has two recipes in the book, which features a recipe from at least one fire station in each state and several foreign countries.

“These recipes are straightforward and easy to make,” McArdle said. “Most importantly, all of it gets eaten.”

When he received an email from co-author Jennifer Westerdoll last year soliciting department favorites, he submitted two of his own, breakfast sausage casserole and cheesy baked potatoes.

“Every month, an area group of fire chiefs discusses regional issues,” he said. “The host chief has to put on a breakfast for everyone. These are recipes which I’ve used for those meetings.”

The leftovers from those meals have gotten rave reviews from the rest of the department.

“They’re delicious,” Capt. Scott Vezina said. “I hope he makes them again.”

McArdle didn’t even know his recipes were picked until hearing from his wife.

“My wife picked up a copy of the book and I was completely taken by surprise,” he said. “I had no idea.”

There’s a picture of a Plaistow engine along with the recipes carrying McArdle's name in the cookbook, but he’s not going to take complete credit for it.

“The potatoes come from my wife,” he said. “The casserole was from a friend when I needed something to make quickly.”

McArdle said firefighters’ culinary skills are much better known in stations where firefighters work 24-hour shifts, but that doesn’t mean Plaistow firefighters are slouches.

“We try to cook a meal for all of us every Friday,” Vezina said. “We’ll have a meeting at the beginning of the day, pick up the stuff and make it.”

Meals can range from chicken Alfredo to ginger chicken, but there are limitations to what they can cook.

“There’s always the chance we can get a call when we’re in the middle of cooking something,” Lt. John Stevens said. “We can’t leave to go do an errand and leave something in the oven because who knows when we’ll be back.”

And who knows what they might find if they did.

“Otherwise, we’re having ashes for dinner,” McArdle said.

While he is the only one who has recipes in the book, he said he’s nowhere near the best cook in the department.

“We’ve got (firefighter) Dick Colcord, who majored in culinary in college,” he said. “I’m usually the recipient. I can’t say I’ve turned my nose at many things that have come from here.”

The cookbook was released last month and is available on Amazon. Proceeds from the book benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.