The fear of death from cancer has prompted a variety of reactions from the public: Food producers are touting the benefits of products like calcium-fortified milk and fiber-enriched bran tablets, while consumers ingest supplement after supplement to meet daily requirements of some nutrients and minerals. Others have taken a more serious approach to cancer prevention, and they demonstrated just how easy that is at a cook-off recently, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Central Los Angeles Unit.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department joined the cancer society for the first Firefighters Anti-Cancer Cook-Off at Farmers Market, during which 12 firefighter chefs prepared creative recipes according to cancer society nutritional guidelines. The event served as a kickoff to the society's annual Cancer Awareness Week several weeks ago, an event which was planned to educate consumers and to encourage cancer prevention through improved dietary habits.
"The purpose of the event," said Joe Hartnett, chairman of the communication committee for the cancer society's Central Los Angeles Unit, "is to focus on health education in conjunction with the 1986 Cancer Awareness Week theme, 'Recipes for Living,' and to promote awareness of the role of proper nutrition in reducing cancer risk. The recipes relate to easy-to-remember ways people can help prevent cancer and detect it early in its most curable form."
There was general agreement at the scene--the food was good; surprisingly so. Dishes like albondigas soup and tostadas were streamlined to compete with the likes of high-fiber standards like pasta salad and low-fat favorites, fish and turkey. Fire departments from throughout the city were represented by chefs of varying ages who displayed imagination and ingenuity when using a restricted ingredient list.
In the end, it was Carl Palas of Station No. 1 who was named the first-place winner for his sole baked in white wine, a dish of sauteed zucchini, mushrooms and onions baked with fillet of sole in a white wine and beef bouillon sauce, served over hot cooked brown rice. Palas, who cooks from time to time for the firefighters in his station, as well as at home for his family, including a diabetic daughter, said his healthy attitude toward cooking and eating is attributable to the fact that he is a recovered cancer patient.
"I've had cancer myself," said Palas, who described his successful bout with the disease. "That's why I use brown rice in the recipe. I also have a diabetic daughter, so we had to change our diet and in the process we started making high-fiber, low-fat foods." Palas received a plaque of recognition and a gift certificate to Ralphs grocery store, which also contributed the food for the event.
Second place was garnered by John Vidovich of operations control division for his garden pasta salad. Vidovich, a cook at Marie Callender's restaurant before joining the fire department, said that although it can be difficult to cook for such large appetites, he has had no problem serving more healthful menus to the firefighters in the station. He relies heavily on salads because they are quick, easy and can go a long way. "I think most firemen are health conscious," Vidovich said. "The job makes us want to stay in shape."
Jorge Aquin and Brian Cummings, two fire chefs from Station No. 9, placed third for their entry, a fried flour tortilla basket filled with fresh ingredients called the downtown chicken tostada. (Station No. 9 is located on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles.) Aquin used fresh cooked and mashed refried beans seasoned with oregano, garlic and a dash of salt and pepper and marinated boned and skinless chicken breast for the foundation of the prize-winning dish. It was topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese and Cummings' spicy fresh salsa.
Other participating firefighter chefs were Ty Wood, Station No. 12; Jim Kinninger and Richard Hernandez, Station No. 1; Bob Franco, Operations Control; Jerry Rose, Station No. 27; Ed Tapia, Station No. 39; Steve Hanson, Station No. 4; Joe Cody and Dick Thomas, Station No. 80; Larry Metz, Station No. 9; Curtis Marchand, Station No. 17, and Vince Cardinelli, Station No. 13.
The contest was judged by Jackie Olden, KNX radio food show host; Ilona Kapuy-Carlos, Cancer Center coordinator, Hospital of the Good Samaritan, and Virginia Gladney, registered dietitian for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, who praised the fire chefs for creating such delicious recipes using the cancer society guidelines.