Due to his busy work schedule, Nate Kepler was a little apprehensive about attending Saturday’s First Responders Kitchen Clash.
He’s glad he did. The cook-off sponsored by Don’s Appliances raised just over $1,100 for charity, and Kepler and the team representing the city’s police department were victorious.
“I had two great teammates from the Washington Police Department who made my life easier,” said Kepler, who entered his first cook-off. “They were excellent sous chefs and my mother was there from start to finish. I couldn’t have done it without these three.”
Three teams competed at the pavilion on South Main Street in downtown Washington. In addition to the police, teams from the fire brigade and the chairman’s rescue and rescue service were on duty. Each team consisted of a chef and two members of that team’s department, and were given three hours to prepare two main courses, two side dishes, and one dessert.
Team Police earned a 109-108 victory over Team Fire. Team Ambulance scored 100 points in a close competition where everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
“People were clapping and cheering,” said Nate Mass, creator of the Washington PA Food Group Facebook page. “Everyone I spoke to said it went smoothly. The traders seemed to be doing well. It was a great first event.”
The winning dish consisted of grilled ribs with maple bourbon barbecue sauce, chicken thighs, southwestern corn, bacon wrapped jalapenos, and a smoked apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.
Because the police department won the contest, they donated the money raised to the National Arthritis Foundation. It is a charity that is very dear to Kepler as his mother Susan suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.
“I started crying when I won and when Nate (Mass) asked where it was going,” Kepler said. “My mother raised my brother and I since I was 8 years old. She’s been my hero all my life. Seeing your struggle over the past few years has torn me apart.”
The police department also received $500 from an anonymous donor to use at its discretion.
Other chefs involved in the competition included Executive Chef Adam Dillon with Team Ambulance and Tony Panyanouvong with Team Fire.
The contest judges were Abby O’Connell, known on Instagram as #foodismysavior_pgh; Lee Drake, Executive Sous Chef of Porch at Siena in Upper St Clair and Shana Brown, Main Street Manager.
Brown was pushed into the service when Mike Travis, a sous-chef at the Elmhurst House of Friendship in Wheeling, W.Va., had to retire due to illness.
“The food was fantastic,” Brown said. “The only difficult part of the day was expressing how good this meal was. You all did a phenomenal job.”
Teams were also given diversions, which required that team’s chef to perform a duty typically performed by a first responder.
“They had me blast through a fire door,” Kepler said. “Oh my god. That was killing me. Hats off to the firefighters who have to do this every day.”
Josh Gagich, using the DJ Hustle name, served as master of ceremonies.
“He was amazing,” Mass said. “He really knows how to handle crowds.”
Planning for another event in 2023 has already begun.
“We’re already planning for next year, making it bigger and better and combining it with something extraordinary,” said Brown, describing the event as a great success. “It was a fun event. We had a great turnout. It was a really good day.”
Kepler said he was told he had to come back and defend the title.
“I’ve wanted to be one and done and undefeated my whole life,” Kepler joked. “Apparently I have to try again. I’m glad I did. It was beyond my wildest imagination.”