Wherever on Earth they came from to lend a hand with Wine Country’s latest calamity, the firefighters and other first responders queued in the chow line Friday at the base camp in Calistoga were hot, they were hungry and they were happy to see Guy Fieri close up and wearing an apron.
“My wife and I still watch ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ two or three times a week,” said Washington state firefighter-EMT Aaron Kipperberg, referring to the popular food reality TV series hosted by Fieri for the past 14 years.
Sitting at a table in the meal tent with three buddies with Puget Sound’s South Kitsap Fire & Rescue, Kipperberg savored grilled chicken, Mojo pork, rice, salads boasting fresh Sonoma County veggies, a roll and ice cream packed onto a compostable clamshell container.
“It’s really a nice gesture,” Kipperberg said to nods from the others on his crew. Friday morning they finished a 24-hour shift defending the Middletown area, and early Saturday they’d head out on their next such shift.
They would go fortified by a special meal prepared and served by some renowned chefs because when crisis occurs — yet again — feeding people on the front lines has simply become what Fieri and his friends do.
“It’s what we love,” Domenica Catelli, chef and co-owner of Geyserville’s landmark Catelli’s restaurant, said as she sliced barbecued chicken thighs in a crazily bustling kitchen beneath a pop-up tent.
Catelli and a cast of other chefs, food purveyors and friends of Fieri set aside what they were doing when he put out a call Tuesday for help to feed 2,000 to 2,500 firefighters, law enforcement officers and others working the Hennessy fire.
“There are so many people who just don’t get the thank-you,” said Fieri, who co-owned the former Johnny’s Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s restaurants in Santa Rosa when, in 2006, he won the competition to become “The Next Food Network Star.” Fourteen years later he still lives in the region and is among the most readily recognized celebrities in the world.
He said that when firefighters are in the field they eat from boxes backed with 4,000 calories worth of food. And he imagined they might like a break from the meals served at the fire camp at the Calistoga Fairgrounds.
Chef Crista Luedtke could have used Friday to prepare for the reopening Saturday of her Boon Eat & Drink restaurant and Boon Hotel & Spa, which had been shut down by the mandatory evacuation of Guerneville. But she jumped at the chance to help Catelli, Duskie Estes and John Stewart prepare a fresh meal for first responders, providing local produce to supplement the grilled and smoked meats that Fieri is renowned for.
“To us, it’s really important to have fresh veg in the mix,” said Luedtke, who’s also been providing meals to people affected by the Walbridge fire.
Her friend, Estes, is formerly of Zazu Kitchen & Farm and now directs Farm to Pantry, which gleans vegetables and fruits from local farmers and gets them to people in need of quality nutrition. Estes rounded up for fire camp lunch and dinner tomatoes from Parsons Home Grown, cucumbers from Front Porch Farm, cabbage from Work Horse Organic Agriculture (WHOA) farm and arugula from Bernier Farms.
In addition to the services of the well-known chefs, Fieri enlisted donations of chicken and pork from a buddy with Golden West Meats in Southern California, Pathwater drinking water in reusable aluminum bottles from the company’s co-founder, Shadi Bakour, and compostable containers and cutlery from Petaluma’s World Centric.
Congressman Mike Thompson spent hours at the food line, handing firefighters, police officers and others cups of ice cream. The Democrat from nearby St. Helena clearly savored being able to hand the first responders a little treat. “Everybody’s doing incredible work,” he said.
The lawmaker watched the famously spike-haired Fieri dash about, orchestrating the hourslong culinary show of gratitude to the emergency workers.
“It’s amazing what he does,” Thompson said. “He’s really good at it.”
At the dining table occupied by the four firefighters from Puget Sound, the crew’s Dean Hoskins paid Fieri and his kitchen crew the ultimate compliment.
“Our plates are empty,” the firefighter-EMT said.
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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.