101114 jbjchili24Stuart Jensen and Vinnie Sarullo of Navesink Hook and Ladder with their potful of chili at JBJ Soul Kitchen’s chili cook-off. Below, Union Beach Fire Company’s entry won first place.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

[See clarification below]


101114 chili6Firetrucks and EMS vehicles crowded the area of the JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank this weekend, but the only thing on fire was taste buds.

Kicking off its three-year anniversary, the pay-what-you-can Monmouth Street restaurant hosted a chili cook-off Saturday, inviting local firefighters and EMS squads to serve up their fiery best.

101114 chili5Michelle Welsh of the Little Silver Fire Company was one of only two female cook-off contenders.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

Event coordinator and rock-star’s spouse Dorothea Bongiovi was there to greet the chefs and the guests, but the stars of the day were the firefighters and EMS cooks, dishing out tiny cups of their secret recipes, schmoozing with the crowd and talking smack among themselves. It was all in good fun, with proceeds of the event shared by the fire departments.

Red Bank’s Navesink Hook and Ladder on Mechanic Street served an awesome chili made entirely from locally sourced ingredients. Stuart Jensen, Vinnie Sarullo, Scott Eskwitt and Nick Ferrero said all of the ingredients came from Red Bank merchants, including the cubed beef chuck and hot Italian sausage from Stew Goldstein at Monmouth Meats. The spices were from the Spice Exchange on Monmouth Street. “The alderwood smoked salt and the hot paprika are great,” one of the guys threw in.

Sea Bright Fire and Rescue showed up with a “venison chili laced with Frank’s Hot Sauce,” said Joe Eskridge.

Robert McClintock drove down from the Hackensack Fire Department with a ground beef chili heated with “little red hot and jalapenos. I’d say it’s medium in gauge of hotness,” he said.

From the Liberty Hose Fire Comany in Red Bank, Herk Forgione and Mike Frazee brought in the spiciest chili. We could all have used a firehose dousing after tasting this one.

Little Silver Fire Department was represented by Michelle Welch of the first aid squad, who also happens to be the Mike Frazee’s daughter, making this a family competition. As hot as Forgione and Frazee’s chili was, Welch’s – made from ground turkey meat and McCormick chili spice “with a little Yuengling added” – was mild. Complete opposites.

Union Beach Fire Department won first place, as decided by attendees, who voted by placing a ticket in a bag in front of each of their favorite chili. Al Lewandowski, Alex Lepore, Wally Van Orden and Gigi Door stacked the deck by making a smoked brisket chili heated with habanero pepper sauce and smoked chipotle. Adding to their A-game, they finished off each little tasting cup with a spritz of cilantro laced crème fraîche and crunchy tortilla twigs. Then, to gild the lily, they handed out little cornbread muffins.

Andy Caruso of MONOC EMS in Red Bank took third place with his smoked, pulled-turkey chili. It was full of beans, corn and peppers.

In addition to seven different varieties of chili brought in by the emergency responders, the restaurant’s kitchen served a vegetarian chili consisting of “pink, black and cannellini beans, corn, green onions and hot sauce,” said Soul Kitchen chef Terrence Stewart, who also served rice, hot dogs, and “your standard chicken wings.”

Toward the end of the event, Jon Bon Jovi came in to award prizes and stay for a few photo opportunities. The kickoff cookoff, was only the beginning of an even filled week to celebrate the JBJ Soul Kitchen. To learn more about this restaurant and the JBJ Soul Foundation, go to the website.

[Clarification, October 16, 2014: Soul Kitchen tells redbankgreen that the description of establishment as a “pay-what-you-can” restaurant is incorrect. Rather, patrons are asked to make a minimum donation of $10 per meal; if they’re unable to do so, they’re asked to contribute their time by helping out in the restaurant.]