When hungry firefighters gather around the table at Fire House 43, they are doing much more than eating a meal.
They are also sharing stories, laughing, getting to know each other better and building a solid sense of camaraderie.
While the firefighters rotate cooking duties, some, like Caleb Kountz, are especially eager to take a turn in the kitchen.
Kountz, who has been a firefighter for two decades, has been at Fire House 43 for about 5 years. In that time, he has become well-known for his impressive culinary skills in the kitchen.
“I step up when it’s our turn to cook, mostly because I like making food and providing a better experience than just making something out of necessity,” Kountz says.
Kountz’s “all-time hit list” includes grilled teriyaki chicken thighs served with coconut jasmine rice with mango chunks and toasted coconut flakes, and fresh stir-fried veggies topped with sriracha.
Other faves are grilled tacos filled with shredded green chile beef served with homemade refried beans and Mexican rice; grilled ribeye steak with garlic mashed potatoes and Caesar salad, and ribs made on the smoker.
“Any side really goes with the ribs, like homemade potato salad with fresh dill, Costco apple pie and ice cream,” Kountz says.
If the firefighters are having an especially busy shift or have training and Kountz needs to put a meal together quickly, taco salad or sub sandwiches topped with his special sauce are always good options.
Captain Robert C. Perez Jr. says Kountz has a knack for transforming a seemingly simple meal into something special.
“Caleb puts effort and thought into all the meals he cooks, and we appreciate him for it,” Perez says, adding that recently Kountz prepared “simple sliders” that were anything but basic.
“The ground beef was seasoned wonderfully. The white onions were caramelized, the French fries were seasoned, the cheese was good deli cheddar cheese, and the lettuce was butter leaf.”
While Kountz is definitely a favorite chef in the station’s kitchen, Perez says other firefighters also prepare some memorable meals.
“Mike makes a great Jambalaya and says it’s his granny’s recipe. Aaron makes a Greek pita meal for lunch with marinated chicken breast, pita bread, cucumbers, olives, red onion and of course his homemade sauce, and Tina is a baker who makes all of her cakes from scratch.”
Perez also has a specialty: red or green chile beef, prepared in the crock pot.
“When chuck roasts are on sale, I usually make red or green chile with rice and beans or sometimes mix it up and make calabacitas and fideo,” he says.
Shopping for ingredients is a team activity, and one that Kountz says allows them to connect with many Ahwatukee residents—some of whom come up to them to express their thanks for helping them during an emergency.
“Most of the time we see people on their worst day so saying hi and visiting with them is very rewarding,” says.
Regardless of what Kountz has planned for the menu, he enjoys spending time sitting and “fellowshipping” around a good meal.
“It’s just more fun when we are eating, laughing, telling stories and busting each other’s chops,” he says.
“We work hard, and the stress can build up sometimes, so providing a little break in the day and showing my coworkers that someone cares really goes a long way. These moments are the times when we really get to know one another, and it all starts with sitting down to eat.”
Caleb Kountz’s Special Sub Sauce
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Combine ingredients together and pour desired amount over sandwich fillings. You can substitute 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning for the basil and oregano, and for more zing, use ½ cup oil and ½ cup vinegar.
“We work hard, and the stress can build up sometimes, so providing a little break in the day and showing my coworkers that someone cares really goes a long way.” - Kountz