Champions for Charity at the Garlic Festival

TC Warford's barbecue sauce is a hit at the fest.

There’s somewhat of an urban legend that firefighters are the best cooks, even if it’s just meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy. But now a pair of local fire stations are being put to the test on Friday when it participates in the first-ever Champions for Charity cook-off at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Friday at 2 p.m.
Bill Olguin, a firefighter of the Hollister Fire Department Local 3395, will represent his station against three other teams in a three-round cooking competition for $3,000 toward a charity. The catch is none of the competitors have a clue what they’ll be cooking.
 “Honestly, I like to cook but I’m a little nervous because I have no clue what they’re going to throw at us. But we’ll figure it out.” Olguin said.
 Other than the required use of garlic in each round, Olguin and the three other teams will face off against each other by cooking an appetizer, entrée and dessert with a set number of unknown ingredients.
 There is a panel of three judges and they need to eliminate a team after each round until there is a winner. Think of the Food Network television show Chopped.
Olguin and Hollister Fire Department union president Vince Grewohl will compete together for the Chamberlain’s Children Center, which is a foster home for children. Gilroy Fire Department fire engineer Mike Pardini is scheduled to compete for the Children’s Burn Foundation but said he’s unsure if he’ll attend.
 Cal Fire captain paramedic Herb Alpers will compete alongside fire captain Anthony Anastasi and hope to win the grand prize for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
 Alpers has worked with Anastasi for many years and claims to be one of the best cooks he knows. Alpers said he knew Anastasi was the first person he’d dial up.
 “I think we have pretty good odds, however, the other teams have just as good of odds,” Alpers said. “I would say we’re all pretty much equally paired up because we don’t know what we’re cooking.”
 TC Warford, a paramedic for the Rural/Metro Ambulance of Santa Clara County will team up with logistics supervisor Peggy Pratt to compete for the 19 for Life, which is a non-profit foundation that provides help for children and families with health disabilities.  
 Warford said he never pictured himself going up on stage to compete in a cook-off and doesn’t consider himself a wonderful chef. And it was actually his famous barbeque sauce that earned him a spot on the stage.
 “I have a couple of things I cook really well but something like this, with the format of the Champions competition, I thought it was a little intimidating,” Warford said. “I know at least by rumor a lot of firefighters are really into cooking.”
However, Warford said he thinks it’ll still be fun with three different departments because there’s still a sense of brotherhood between them but there’s also a sense a competition.
 Marcie Morrow, co-chair of the Garlic Festival recipes stage and Rural/Metro Ambulance of SCC paramedic supervisor, helped orchestrate the inaugural friendly competition between firefighters and paramedics as a new way to spice up things on the cook-off stage.
 She was also the one who called Warford because she knew about the barbeque sauce and asked him to participate.
 “This year we thought that it might be nice to highlight the heroes in our community and find a way that they can give back as well,” Morrow said.
 For example, 19 for Life is a foundation started for a close friend of Warford’s brother who he went to college with but died of leukemia at the age of 19.    
 Alpers usually helps coordinate the boot collection where firefighters line up with a boot to raise money for the MDA. He also knows a family from Gilroy with a boy that has muscular dystrophy and is someone Alpers has watched grow up.
 “It’s very close to home,” Alpers said. “It’s a great charity, they do a lot of really good work and I’ve been involved with them for many years. It was an easy choice for me.”
 Olguin has personal experience with the Chamberlain’s Children Center by visiting the foster kids and taking them shopping during the holidays. In the past he’s witnessed some of the foster kids buying stuff not just for themselves but gifts for siblings, parents and advisors of the foster home. 
 “It’s just unbelievable how excited they get and where they’re heart’s at. Where they want to spend their money,” Olguin said. “It’s just something that really touches our hearts.”
 The four teams will be fiercely competing for bragging rights as the best cooks in the area but they’ll be battling for a great cause that’s also a bit personal to them. Plus, they’ll get to do it in their own backyard at the Garlic Festival.
 “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to get up and cook on that forum,” Alpers said. “It’s a world renowned festival and it’s a rare opportunity to participate.”