By Jason A. Smith
A Henry County firefighter, with a flair for cooking, says he is looking forward to "showing what the South can do," when he takes his talents to New York City.
Fire Battalion Chief Stephen Copeland is one of 10 finalists in the Cook & Ladder Competition in the Big Apple Feb. 3.
The event, held every other year, is sponsored by McIlhenny, makers of Tabasco sauce.
The contest will bring together firefighters from across the country to try their recipes on a team of chefs, journalists, firefighters and food experts. The winner will receive a $10,000 grand prize, and the title of "America's Hottest Fire Cook."
Copeland, 44, of Stockbridge, has been associated with the fire department, in volunteer and full-time capacities, since 1986.
During that time, he has cooked for his fellow firemen at Henry's Station No. 3 in Stockbridge.
He first entered the Cook & Ladder competition in 2006, but his entry was not selected by the judges. This year, however, he made it into the competition, thanks to a recipe he entered for Savory Southwestern Cheesecakes with Cilantro Pesto sauce.
The battalion chief came up with the recipe while experimenting in his kitchen one day. Copeland says he was excited when his hunch paid off.
"The flavor reminds me of Rotel tomatoes and Velveeta cheese dip," says Copeland. "Chefs prepared the recipe in New York, and apparently enjoyed the taste of it. They told me to come on up and see how well I could do."
Copeland says regardless of how well he does in the competition, he already considers himself fortunate. "I went into the competition thinking if I could just get to New York, I'd be really happy," he says. "I've attained that, at this point, so anything further than that would just be gravy."
Additional cash prizes will be awarded at the contest, in the amounts of $5,000 for second place, and $2,000 for third place. The prize amounts will be divided evenly between the winning firefighters, and their firehouses.