EMS Lessons from the Kitchen

Running a kitchen and making a good meal is in many ways like running a call



Photo Jamie Thompson

Updated May 15, 2015

Summer is officially here, so it's time to lighten up a bit and take a radical turn. Today we are going to chat a bit about cooking. I love to eat and I love to cook. Cooking is a win-win endeavor; you get to eat good food and so do the folks with whom you share the meal.

You may be wondering, "What does cooking have to do with professional development in EMS?" For me, several analogies exist. When I first joined the Philadelphia Fire Department, I was hired from outside the city, and was in the first class of single-role paramedics. I was considered an outsider and I was called the "civilian."

One critically important way I became a member of my firehouse family was cooking for my brothers and sisters in the station. I became part of the family because I contributed something of value — good food. Sitting around the kitchen table for a meal is a great way to get to know people, to bond, and develop relationships.

Running a kitchen and making a good meal is in many ways like running a call. You need to learn and know the basics; you need to plan ahead and prepare. You need leadership and communication skills. You need the ability to effectively delegate tasks. You sometimes need to teach folks how to do the tasks you give them. Leadership in the kitchen yields a good meal and creates bonds. You can apply the lessons and skills of the kitchen anywhere. Good performance earns respect, whether you're in the kitchen or on a call.

I learned the basics of what I know from Mom, Dad, and Granddad, all great cooks. I also learned a ton from watching Graham Kerr ("The Galloping Gourmet") and Julia Child on television after school as a kid. My real cooking education began when I needed a job and started waiting tables. I held numerous jobs as a waiter.

At the last one, I wore a tuxedo and performed tableside preparations of appetizers, salads and entrees. I made sure to learn something from the line chefs at every restaurant in which I worked. In fact, my cooking education still continues; it was, and still is, greatly influenced by television shows like "Great Chefs," "Great Chefs of America," "Iron Chef," "Iron Chef America," and "Top Chef." From my perspective, there are two great reasons to learn how to cook: you always get to eat what you like, and the cook doesn't clean up the kitchen (at least in the firehouse).

With that, I'd like to share a recipe that the folks in my stations loved. Anyone can pull it off, so get ready to fire up the grill!

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

Ingredients
Boneless Chicken Breasts
Italian style Club Rolls (or Kaiser rolls)
Tomatoes
Lettuce
Onions
Pickles
Deli Sliced Cheese (American and Provolone)

Marinade
Bottled Italian Salad Dressing
Worcestershire Sauce
Fresh Garlic
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes

Preparation
Start with boneless chicken breasts; each piece is half a breast. (In the station, we allocated at least one half of a breast per person. One half breast yields two pieces that will make two sandwiches). Lay the 1/2 breast out on a cutting board and trim off any fat. Then, holding your sharpest carving knife with the blade parallel to the surface of the cutting board and pressing on the chicken with your hand held flat, slice the breast in half to create two flat thin pieces. Place each piece between two layers of plastic wrap and gently pound the pieces so they are of even thickness. You can use a small heavy frying pan if you don't have a real pounding tool.

Mix the marinade ingredients in a large, non-reactive bowl. Add an entire small bottle of dressing, crush, peel, and add a few cloves of garlic, add the black and red pepper, and add a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Toss the chicken to coat well and marinate the chicken for 2-4 hours.

While you're waiting for the chicken to marinate, get a clean cutting board* and thinly slice the onions and tomatoes, and wash, drain, and break some lettuce into "sandwich sized" pieces. If you're ambitious, lightly toast the rolls.

Grill the chicken over charcoal. (Gas is acceptable, but only if you don't have charcoal.) Be sure to grill over low heat so as not to dry out the chicken. The flat pieces cook quickly, so make sure to grill only a few minutes per side.

After the chicken is thoroughly cooked, build your sandwiches. Place one piece of chicken (or two if you're really hungry) on a toasted roll, top with a couple slices of cheese, and add your choice of tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, mayonnaise, and/or hot sauce.

We usually serve these with dill pickles, potato salad, or chips, and a green salad with fresh vegetables on the side. This is a station recipe that is very forgiving, so you don't have to actually measure the ingredients. It’s quick and easy, tastes great, and anyone can do it. You, too, can be the star of the kitchen.

*You should never cut food using a cutting that was already used to cut meat, especially chicken. You risk contaminating your food with salmonella. Make sure to use a clean cutting board to slice your veggies.

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