When you have a grill-off between the police department and the fire department and it is a fundraiser for W.A.G.S. 4 Kids – which provides service dogs to families – you don’t need to ask me twice to be a judge.

DeckCreator in North Royalton asked me just that and I accepted. The event was last Saturday under sunny skies and perfect temperatures. Bounce house, many tents for cooks, spectators, vendors and attendees were set up, and when noon came, the contest began.

Pad and pen in hand, I immediately started talking with contestants to see what they were cooking and check their technique. Each team was given the same ingredients and instructed to create an appetizer and a main course. The ingredients were bags of white and gold potatoes, tri-color bell peppers, onions, fresh garden tomatoes, steak and chicken thighs. They were given a plethora of John Henry seasonings, barbecue sauce, skewers, oils and garlic and told to do their best within the time frame allotted. Both teams cooked on the Primo Grills provided (ceramic grills similar to my Big Green Egg). Both teams were amazing.

The firefighters, sponsored by Local 2156, were represented by Fireman Robert Senczylo and Fireman Isaiah Hernandez. Robert, apparently, does a lot the cooking in the station, although he tells me that has help from many there. With 24-hour shifts, firemen are known for their cooking skills. Robert says he rarely uses a recipe and cooks with inspiration from his years of experience. He lived a few years in Puerto Rico and his partner Isaiah grew up in Puerto Rico, so they both have some of that influence in their cooking style, including the use of lots of cilantro.

“Everything gets cilantro,” says Isaiah.

Isaiah says he is just the prep guy, but he clearly has skills. They chose oak to add to the coals for smoke flavoring.

The police, sponsored by FOP 15, were represented by Officer Chris Johnson and his son Brodey, 14, a Highland student, and Lt. Keith Tarace and his children, Lucas, 9, and twins Lane and Lexi, 7, all students at Brunswick’s Crestview Elementary. All the kids were helping in the prep of ingredients, something that I can appreciate. I think involving children in cooking and food prep is an excellent way to prepare them for when they are on their own and helps them to learn to eat healthy.

One thing that must be pointed out is there seemed to be a traitor on the police team. I asked Lucas who he thought cooked better, police or firefighters, and he responded “firefighters.” The police chose applewood to add to the coals for smoke flavoring.

The first round was steak and entree round was chicken thighs. The rest was up to them.

The police were victorious in this year’s first annual DeckCreator Grill-Off!

Hats off to both the police and the firefighters for stepping up to serve the community in yet another way, and to DeckCreator and W.A.G.S 4 Kids for engaging the community by creating an exciting event.

I could talk about what they cooked and how they cooked it, but the real message to me is how enjoyable it is to talk with folks, both strangers and those you know, at a party, event or crowded restaurant over a plate of food and entertainment, especially when the entertainment is the cooking of the food.

Bond with your fellow man, share this exciting adventure of life and enjoy the ride. Whether it is a fifth anniversary party at Van’s Tire in Wadsworth on Friday eating tacos from the Funky Truckeria Food Truck and talking with folks around you (that was a great event last week and free to the community) or hanging with the VCS Salon in Medina on Saturday celebrating their 40th anniversary and enjoying White Box/Courthouse Pizza, beverages and a band (also free to the community), we need to remember the famous quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.”

My favorite part of the day was, as I was leaving, walking past some wildflowers at the edge of the parking lot, thinking to myself how nice it is to talk with people I just met, and a few I knew, over food and fire, over the smoke of a barbecue and plates of great food.

Life is good.

Chicken parpikash note

Apparently, I left out the “quantity” of chicken broth in last week’s column on chicken paprikash. Two cups is the answer, but my wife, Yvette, says more is good, too.

Thank you to the readers that emailed and called in for clarification.

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