Grill to Thrill: Boston's Bravest BBQ for Charity

A group of local Boston firefighters will be wiping their brows before a hot flame on Saturday. And the only equipment they will need are a barbecue fork and plenty of charcoal to keep the flames roaring atop the old-fashioned outdoor grill.

On Saturday June 14, members of the Boston Fire Department's Dorchester firehouses will be cooking for a cause in the Second Annual Firehouse Cookoff to benefit the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center. The off-duty jakes will be preparing their secret recipes, marinating their ribs and steak tips and grilling them up in hopes of raising money for the local health center and providing some hungry residents with a hearty barbecue meal. The firefighters also have the opportunity to strut their culinary talents and compete for the title of best firehouse chef in Dorchester, taking home with them a specially designed "Crystal Bucket" award, donated by Tiffany & Company, and a state-of-the-art outdoor grill.

Dawn Brennan-Daly, director of special events and public relations for the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, created and now manages this event, which takes place at 1353 Dorchester Avenue and Ellet Street, and has turned into a traditional neighborhood block party with food, drinks, raffles and music.

"The cookoff was a chance to pull the community together and have an old-fashioned block party," Brennan-Daly said. "Our goal was to bring in the community and to thank the firemen. 9-11 proved once again that they're such heroes."

Inspired by a Los Angeles event, Brennan-Daly discovered that Boston boasts the oldest professional fire department in the country and in Dorchester alone, there are six firehouses. The cookoff was a way to honor that rich Boston Fire tradition and bring the community together to support the firefighters and a good cause - the Dorchester House.

The Dorchester House was established 118 years ago and became a health center in the 1960s. Many residents come to the Fields Corner center for the public health, social and recreational services and programs. The social service organization, along with many other organizations which receive state funding, was affected by the statewide budget cuts. But Brennan-Daly said the Dorchester House is still up and running and will continue to provide health and human services to the Dorchester community.

"We were hurt by the budget cuts, but we always serve," she stated. "Our mission is to serve people. We're not going to stop [providing services]," Brennan-Daly said. "We're not going under."

She noted that the state budget cuts have made this the perfect time to fundraise in order to ensure that the programs at the Dorchester House will continue.

The cookoff is a significant fundraiser for the Dorchester House. Last year alone, 400 hungry barbecue lovers attended the event. And this year, with the help of over 50 volunteers, celebrity judges and Boston firefighters, the event planner hopes to attract an even larger crowd.

This year's cookoff features local celebrity judges, including Tony Ambrose of Ambrosia on Huntington Ave., Ben Johnson, owner of the Blarney Stone, Ed Gannon, executive chef of the Four Seasons, Catherine O'Neil of the Bayside Expo Center, and the Reporter's Bill Forry. Chefs from the Boston Fire Depart-ment's Dorchester firehouses, representing Districts 7 and 8, will be cooking on old-fashioned wood and charcoal barbecues. Firefighters will prepare their entries all morning and will demonstrate their culinary skills by preparing ribs, steak tips, barbecue chicken, sausage, peppers and onions, and of course, chili.

For $10, the public attends the outdoor block party cookoff, which includes two trips to the barbecue buffet, Sam Adams beer and Paul Newman lemonade. The Dorchester House's staff will provide all of the homemade pies for dessert.

Don Walsh of NStar is giving complimentary tickets to volunteers helping with Mayor Menino's citywide cleanup "Boston Shines," also taking place on Saturday. This way, the Dorchester volunteers can enjoy a hearty dinner after a hard day's work. With the checkered table cloths, peanuts and beer, the casual dining day attracts a variety of folks, from Dorchester families, retired and active firefighters and even residents from neighboring communities such as Everett and Somerville.

Many local companies sponsor the cookoff and donate food, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Neighborhood Health Plan, Harvard Pilgrim, NStar, Sam Adams, Stop and Shop and Kamyan.

Jerome Sampson, a Boston Firefighter on Engine 18 at Ashmont, took first place in last year's cookoff and he will be back again to demonstrate his grilling skills.

"I'll be cooking what I cooked last year - ribs on the barbecue," Sampson, a Roxbury native and Dorchester resident, said. "I let the food take its time and cook itself," the Boston firefighter said.

The 16-year fire department veteran grew up in a large family that loved to cook. His grandmother, mother, father, brothers and sisters all enjoyed the culinary art. "I came from a big family," Sampson said. "We were always cooking big meals."

This year's June 14 Cookoff will run from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the door. The event is held at the Dorchester House.

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