Reading & Recipes

Firehouse Chef: Recipes from Canada’s Firefighters

Tracy Turlin
Written by Tracy Turlin

Author Patrick Mathieu

Patrick Mathieu is a Quebec native who was influenced by his grandmother to learn to cook at the age of 16. A few years later he was inspired by his grandfather and uncles to become a firefighter. Sixteen years on, Mathieu now works for the Waterloo Fire Department. He and his wife Andrea Lauren own Station House Catering and Private Chef Services. He’s a food columnist for Firefighting in Canada magazine and was a contestant on Season 2 of Food Network Canada’s Chopped Canada. Somewhere in there he found time to write a cookbook: Firehouse Chef: Recipes from Canada’s Firefighters (Whitecap Books, 2016).

According to the author, rookies are given the following choices in the firehouse kitchen: cook for a bunch of hungry firefighters, or clean up after them. For Mathieu the decision was easy. He developed his firefighting/life-saving skills, balanced that out with his culinary skills, and found he loved them both.

Firehouse Chef was more than the meat and potatoes fare I was expecting. These men and women seem to love their food spicy. I was also surprised at the number of desserts on offer. Mathieu gives us 90 of his own recipes, ranging from classic French Canadian dishes to Italian and Mexican favourites. He and his wife honeymooned in Thailand, and their love for the beautiful flavours of that country are apparent in this book. Fifty further recipes are contributions from other firehouse cooks across Canada, including a number from Southwestern Ontario. If you know any firefighters, you’ll definitely want to check this out to see if they have a recipe included.

I never really get tired of fresh Ontario corn with a simple butter/salt/pepper treatment, but Mexican Grilled Corn is a decadent alternative and sure to impress at your next cookout. A beautiful balance of sweet corn, salty cheese and tangy lime, these are only made better by being incredibly messy. The perfect summer food made for sharing with a crowd.

If you like the camping vibe without the wood smoke and mosquitoes, try a slightly more upscale version of the campfire classic, S’mores Sundae. It’s a great way to enjoy the flavours of childhood memories without dropping marshmallows in the fire. (Does anyone else like them charred on the outside? Tasty, but difficult to find the sweet spot before they go nuclear.)

For an easy and quick weeknight dinner in the summer, you can’t do much better than Grilled Ahi Tuna with Sicilian Salsa. The flavourful salsa can be made ahead of time and the tuna can be grilled in less than five minutes. It makes for a very light yet satisfying dinner. Salad or pasta could be served alongside, depending on your appetite.

I could cook from this book all summer and never run out of recipes I want to try. I actually tried to find a recipe I didn’t like the look of and couldn’t find one. (Maybe the risotto. I don’t get risotto. Is it rice? Is it cream? Is it mushy, crunchy?) What was I saying? Oh yes, all of Firehouse Chef’s recipes — including risotto — are flavourful dishes that work as well for a busy family as they do for busy firefighters.

In addition to the wonderful food, we get a glimpse into the lighter side of life in a working firehouse. This book is as much fun to read as it is to cook from. 

Recipes excerpted from Firehouse Chef: Recipes from Canada’s Firefighters. Published by Whitecap Books. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Grilled Ahi Tuna with Sicilian Salsa

Serves 4-6

Ahi Tuna could very well be my favourite ingredient both to cook and to eat. During my appearance on Season 2 of the Food Network’s Chopped Canada you can only imagine my giant sigh of relief when I saw a beautiful piece of tuna as one of my secret ingredients in the main course round! This dense, firm-fleshed fish is absolutely perfect for grilling and absorbs rubs and marinades wonderfully. Cooking it rare will ensure its maximum tenderness and flavour, and the Sicilian Salsa is a perfect briny compliment to this or any grilled fish.

4 ahi tuna steaks (about ½ lb/225 g each)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) grapeseed oil, for coating

SPICE RUB

1 Tbsp (15 ml) garlic powder
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried basil
1 tsp (5 ml) ground fennel seeds
¼ tsp (1 ml) red chili pepper flakes
½ Tbsp (7.5 ml) kosher salt
1 tsp (5 ml) lemon pepper or freshly ground black pepper

SICILIAN SALSA

¼ cup (60 ml) chopped cured black olives
1 cup (250 ml) chopped tomatoes
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped fresh basil
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ tsp (1 ml) cayenne
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon 
Kosher salt, to taste

Prepare a grill for direct grilling over high heat and oil the grill rack. Coat the tuna with grapeseed oil.

SPICE RUB 

In a small bowl mix together the garlic powder, basil, fennel seeds, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of each tuna steak generously with the spice rub.

SICILIAN SALSA 

To make the salsa, combine all ingredients in a bowl, taste and season with salt. Set aside.

Grill the tuna directly over high heat for 1-2 minutes per side, until grill­ marked and still rare in the middle. Arrange the tuna steaks on individual plates and top with the salsa. Serve alongside your favourite pasta.

Mexican Grilled Corn

Serves 4

In Ontario, we really look forward to fresh corn season and in the fire­house a couple dozen cobs will regularly show up during a shift. Try this Mexican street-food edition to dress up your next cob.

4 ears fresh corn, husked
½ cup (125 ml) mayonnaise
½ Tbsp (7.5 ml) Mexican-style chili powder
½ Tbsp (7.5 ml) smoked paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated lime zest
½ cup (125 ml) crumbled cotija, queso fresco or feta cheese 
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup (125 ml) fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill over high heat. Grill the corn, turning frequently with tongs until the kernels have softened and are charred in spots, 6-8 minutes. Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chili powder, smoked paprika and lime zest. Put the cheese on a small plate. Brush each ear of corn with about 1 Tbsp (5 ml) mayonnaise mixture and then roll in the cheese to coat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cilantro and serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the corn.

S’mores Sundae

Serves 6

Sundaes are a really simple way to have fun with dessert, and they are a regular treat in the firehouse. This easy and decadent twist on everyone’s campfire classic might surpass the original, with a homemade chocolate ganache, toasted marshmallow and lots of ice cream!

12 graham crackers
3 Tbsp (45 ml) brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted 
Pinch of kosher salt
40 large marshmallows
½ lb (225 g) good-quality dark chocolate
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 cups (500 ml) vanilla bean ice cream
2 cups (500 ml) chocolate chunk ice cream

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Add the graham crackers to a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Add the sugar, butter and salt and pulse until the mixture is well incorporated. Pour out onto baking tray and form into one large “cookie.” Bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely then break into crumbles.

Preheat oven on broil. Lay marshmallows on a parchment-lined baking tray in a single layer and place under the broiler for just a couple of minutes until browned well all over. Remove and set aside.

Finely chop the chocolate and place in bowl. Heat the heavy cream over medium heat until just starting to simmer. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and fold until the chocolate melts and it becomes a smooth ganache.

Place 1 scoop each of vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a parfait glass or bowl. Layer your sundae with dark chocolate ganache, graham cracker crumbles and a toasted marshmallow or two on top.

About the author

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London.
Reach her at tracyturlin@gmail.com.