As I was driving up to Encinitas Fire Station #2 with my son Quinn, who was along as a photographer for this story on Firehouse food, we were discussing how cool it would be if they received a call during the interview. Well sure enough, about halfway through our conversation, the bell rings and the guys start to scramble. We moved out of the way, not wanting to interfere with their business at hand, when the Captain asked if we wanted to ride along. All of a sudden I was transported back to my youth, hanging out at the local fire station, waiting for the alarm to go off and wishing I could accompany them when it did. Heck yes we wanted to ride along! We hopped into the fire truck and off we went, cruising through the streets of Cardiff sirens blaring, traffic yielding, women waving...yes, it’s true what they say. While there have been plenty of journalists embedded with firefighters, I’m guessing not many have been food writers. Hey, I’ll take it. This was a chance to see these pros in action and they responded quickly and efficiently to a man with chest pains at a local Cardiff restaurant. We were on a huge adrenaline rush as we made our way back to the station to finish the interview, and eat of course.
A gig with the Encinitas Fire Department is one of the most coveted in their field. Encinitas Fire Station #2 on Mackinnon in Cardiff, soon to move to a new station across Birmingham, is staffed by a rotating crew of 3 firefighters. I connected with Captain John Gonzales at the Leucadia Farmers market where he was running his side gig Bottaro Wood Fired Pizza. Given his immersion into the culinary scene through Bottaro, it made sense to cover his station for this story. We were also recording them for Lick the Plate Radio on KPRi which will air next week. Besides talking about food, we were going to taste each of their individual specialties.
The other firefighters were Engineer Tom Heer who is retiring in December after 30 years of service. Tom’s contribution to the tasting was his healthy Power Salad. Duke Harbin is the third member of the team and is a Firefighter Paramedic with 8 years with the department and former Navy Seal. Duke’s signature dish is his corn poblano chowder. Captain John Gonzales would be contributing to the tasting with his Firehouse Pizza.
The consensus among all three was that fire house food has evolved over the years from an emphasis on hearty, filling meals to a more health conscious approach. That holds true even more in a sporty town like Cardiff with access down the hill to Seaside Market for fresh, quality ingredients. Tom’s power salad was a healthy mix of greens, veggies, beans and a homemade lemon dressing. It was a perfect mix of greens and proteins and variations on this salad are eaten almost daily at the station.
Duke Harbin, the station paramedic is also a hard-core surfer, biker, and all-around athlete. He had some great stories about his time as a Navy Seal and how that experience enabled him to travel the world and shape his appreciation for different cuisines. Duke’s poblano corn chowder was a heat packed combination of fire roasted poblano peppers, veggie stock, cumin, cayenne, some cream to thicken it up, and raw corn as a garnish. This soup packed some serious heat that was offset a bit by a dollop of sour cream. It was a good heat though as I could not stop eating it.
Next up was a sampling of pizza from Captain John Gonzales. Bottaro is his mom’s maiden name and the inspiration for Bottaro Wood Fired Pizza. It’s a wood burning oven on a trailer that he can cater any size event with. They make their own sausage, use local ingredients, and organic flour. The pizza bakes in about 90 seconds in an oven that reaches 900 degrees. The result is some of the best pizza around. The great thing is he can roll it up just about anywhere you are having an event. Check them out at www.bottarowoodfiredpizza.com.
I’d like to thank all the guys at Encinitas Fire Station # 2 for their hospitality, great stories, killer food, and of course the ride-along. I could not have scripted it any better.