Brooklyn Firefighter John Sierp Hopes His Meatloaf Extinguishes Foes In Daily News' 5-Alarm Cookoff

NY Daily News - November 09, 2009

Firefighter John Sierp is preparing for battle. His chosen weapon? Caribbean-style meatloaf. It hasn't failed him yet.

Last month, top chefs from firehouses across the city faced off in preliminary rounds of the Daily News' 5-Alarm Cookoff. Now the winners from all five boroughs are gearing up to compete for the televised finale airing Friday on "Rachael Ray" (10 a.m., Ch. 7).

The members of Ladder 169, Sierp's Brooklyn firehouse, are rallying around their man.

"John is the best cook in the house," says fellow firefighter Jason McCormick. "I think he's going to do well and make us proud."

At least Sierp knows he won't get stage fright. Already a TV pro, he's sauteed and stir-fried with the likes of Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay in the past.

"I am very competitive, and I want to win," says Sierp, known for transforming traditional recipes by using unexpected ingredients.

His zesty Caribbean meatloaf blew away the local competition at the New York City College of Technology last month.

"This is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, even for those who hate regular meatloaf," he boasted then.

Sierp hopes the pork meatloaf (swapping pork for beef makes it extra moist) seasoned with freshly grated ginger and sriracha hot sauce fares as well in the final contest as it did during the first round.

"It's all up to the judges and what they're looking for," he says. "If they're looking for something a little fancier or more sophisticated, I might be out of luck. This is a great dish, but it's also very clean and simple."

Sierp first picked up his cooking skills by following his grandmother around as a kid. "I always wanted to know what she put in, and how she made it," he says. "I used to watch her make sauce on Sunday, so then I began to actually do it myself."

Feeding almost 20 hungry firefighters every night is another sure-fire way to learn your way around the kitchen.

"We live in the firehouse, and we cook breakfast, lunch and dinner together," Sierp, 37, explains.

"The guys who love to eat watch the guys who cook, and they pick things up, so it all works out pretty well," he says.

There's plenty of pressure to turn out a tasty meal, as firefighters are some of the toughest food critics around. "We're brutally honest," admits Justin Desfosse. "If something gets burned, you'll hear about it!"

It takes a six-burner stove, oversized skillet, two ovens and two well-stocked refrigerators to feed this firehouse.

A team takes the firetruck to Waldbaum's every day to pick up fresh ingredients for the lunch and dinner meals, sometimes stopping at local bakeries and butcher shops for finer breads and cuts of meat.

The daily meals eat up most of the produce, meaning the refrigerators are mostly stocked with leftovers and condiments.

A peek inside Ladder 169's freezer reveals a whopping 32 pounds of butter.

"We use butter in everything," says Desfosse. "I'm sure eventually it will give us all heart attacks."

In the second freezer, there are six cartons of ice cream. "That's another staple," says Sierp. "Firefighters can't live without their ice cream."

Sierp has already scored the house a new 52-inch flat-screen TV from Best Buy as an award for winning the first round. Should he take the grand prize on Friday, Best Buy will also oufit Ladder 169's kitchen with a package of state-of-the-art appliances.

Of course, Sierp and his house are also interested in claiming some well-deserved bragging rights.

"I know all of the other guys in the competition, and they're good guys," says Sierp. "The competition is pretty fierce. They're all really good cooks, and some are classically trained."

Still, it's a safe bet that the FDNY cheftestants from the other boroughs aren't prepared for Sierp's saucy commentary.

"After I put that meatloaf in the oven, I've got nothing to do for 30 minutes," he warns. "So I will have nothing to do but bust the other guys' chops."