The Boston firefighters at the Jamaica Plain firehouse at 746 Centre St. have a motto: they rather “eat good than eat out.” Luckily, they have firefighter Jay Sciara manning the grill.
The firehouse is headquarters for Division Two and is home to Engine 28 and Tower Ladder 10.
Sciara started working in the restaurant business when he was 14 years old, went to college for hotel and restaurant management and was previously a sous-chef at a private country club before joining the department.
He cooks for the second group out of four that rotate shifts at the firehouse. The other groups have their own arrangements for cooking. Firefighters typically work two 24-hour shifts a week. Sciara usually does a meal per shift, but also cooks breakfast on weekends.
“We eat anything and everything,” said Sciara, who listed several of the meals, such as lobster, steak and shrimp.
The Gazette recently spoke with Sciara as he was preparing a dinner at the firehouse of Ah-So chicken, which uses the same sauce that is put on boneless ribs at a Chinese restaurant, oven fries, sautéed spinach and garlic, summer squash and salad.
Sciara said firehouse meals usually consist of a salad, starch, vegetable, main course and dessert, though the firefighters are trying to stay away from latter after recently completing a weight-loss contest. Sciara came in second, losing 22 pounds.
Sciara said most of the firefighters eat whatever is put in front of them, though one doesn’t eat pork and another dislikes spicy food, so he accommodates them. Sciara said he has one critic of his cooking, but said, “You never see anything on his plate when he leaves.”
Ingredients are bought from $100 collected from the firefighters at $10 per person. But, Sciara said, he usually tries to keep it under $100, putting the change into a general fund that is used to go out to celebrate a firefighter’s promotion or buy something if a firefighter has a baby.
He usually goes shopping before the shift starts, so he doesn’t have to go out during it. Sciara said he buys what is on sale, sometimes going to three different stores looking for the best prices. He said shopping usually takes about half an hour, unless his 20-month-old daughter accompanies him.
“I don’t need a list. I know what I need,” said Sciara.
Sciara said the firefighters appreciate him cooking for them. He said they learn from his cooking, such that seafood doesn’t have to be cooked if it is fresh, pork can be medium rare and green vegetables don’t have to turn brown to be cooked.
The firefighters pay Sciara’s portion of the house fund for his cooking. Each firefighter pays into a house fund that buys items including condiments, coffee, tea, plates and utensils.
The City purchases the firehouse a stove and refrigerator, but the firefighters buy everything else, including pots and pans. Sciara said they buy commercial ones that last a long time.
The firefighters eat at a long table in a room that has a television. But, Sciara said, they usually turn off the television during the meal unless there is a game on, so they can talk to each other and grow closer together. He added it allows them to listen to the chief and his advice when he comes to eat with them.
Sciara does it all when it comes to the cooking, but there is one thing you won’t find him doing at the firehouse kitchen—cleaning the dishes.