By JACQUELINE DURETT
EDISON — Firefighters are typically known for putting out a fire, but later this month they’ll be starting some — and for a good cause.
The sixth annual Cooked and Uncorked event, sponsored by the N.J. State Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association, will be held on Feb. 29 at the Pines Manor. Cooked and Uncorked benefits both the St. Barnabas Burn Foundation and a summer camp in Connecticut for young burn victims.
The event generally raises about $50,000 a year, according to Bob Hill, event co-chairman.
At the event, firefighters compete in the Ultimate Fire Department Cookoff. When the event was just getting off the ground years ago, 10 departments would compete, but that number has since doubled, Hill said. This year the departments competing are Bayonne, Belleville, Carteret, Cranford, Elizabeth, Hillside, Harrison, Long Branch, Linden, Maplewood, Millburn, Nutley, New Brunswick, Paterson, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle, South Orange, Trenton and Union.
“The guys love it,” Hill said, adding that there are two categories for dish submission — gourmet and firehouse. In the second category, the firefighters get creative with snack foods and other items they may have on hand in a firehouse.
Hill said many attendees come looking for their favorite firefighter chef, and over the past couple of years, Bayonne’s fire department has been the one to beat, particularly in the gourmet category.
Crowning this year’s winners will be a panel of judges, including chef Joe Leone of Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties, Shelli Sonstein of radio station Q104.3, as well as journalists, firefighters, representatives from sponsor organizations and others.
In addition, dozens of eateries from around the corner and around the state (and one from New York) will offer attendees samples of their best dishes. Local participants include 2 Chicks with Chocolate in Metuchen and the Pines Manor itself. Sponsor organizations also include some alcohol retailers, so a variety of specialty drinks will also be available.
However, one person who won’t be tasting anything that night is Hill. The event takes so much work, he joked, “I never get to taste any of the food.”
Planning for the event, which is done by a committee that includes firefighters, civilians and retirees, takes the better part of each year, he said. “We have it down pretty much to a science,” he said.
The result, Hill said, is always a fun event that also does a lot of good.
“It’s a lot of good clean fun,” Hill said. “Everybody that comes is always in a festive mood.”
He said the firefighters appreciate the opportunity to help burn victims, both St. Barnabas patients and camp participants. For the local patients, the funds cover items such as food and lodging for family members and medical bills.
Tickets for Cooked and Uncorked cost $60 in advance or $65 at the door. For information, visit cookedanduncorked.com or call 973-322-4305.