S.I.'S Bravest Sal Depaola Wins News 5 Alarm Cookoff On Rachel Ray With Fiery Jambalaya Dish

NY Daily News - November 14, 2009

by Rachel Wharton

The cookoff is complete - and we have a winner!

The underdog came out ahead of four more experienced firehouse chefs: Jimmy Lowe, 42, of Bronx Rescue 3; Keith Young, 45, of Queens Ladder 158; John Sierp, 37, of Brooklyn Ladder 169, and Steven Brunner, 42, of Manhattan Ladder 36.

"I didn't think I had a chance," said the 32-year-old DePaola.

Ray said the upset win "just goes to show you that cooking isn't all about skill set or something you can learn at a culinary school."

"It's also about those little extra layers of flavor or the heart of the dish," Ray said.

All five dishes won her admiration - "you could see them in a restaurant," she said - while the men impressed her with their calm in the heat of the "Top Chef"-style challenge, which gave them an hour to cook while cameras rolled.

"I was just surprised at how focused they were," Ray said. "But when you think about what these people do for a living, that they truly run into burning buildings knowingly and of their own free will to save strangers and small animals - I mean, you've gotta be a focused, very serious person."

Their cheering families and fellow firefighters were another story: They had to be asked to turn down the volume so they wouldn't blow out Ray's earpiece.

Not that she minded a room packed with the crème de la crème of the FDNY: "When I go home and my husband says, 'What did you do today?'" Ray said, "I'm going to tell him I hugged on firefighters."