Food TV sizzles island

Food Network reporter Jill Cordes tapes a segment of the ‘best of military eats’ at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station firefighting school. Producer Jodi Langer directed the shoot.  - Christine Smith
Food Network reporter Jill Cordes tapes a segment of the ‘best of military eats’ at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station firefighting school. Producer Jodi Langer directed the shoot.
— image credit: Christine Smith

When U.S. Navy firefighters torch a mock jet while the production crew of a cable television food show looks on, one thought comes to mind.

It looks like the world’s biggest barbecue.

However, the point of the segment, which was taped for the Food Network show “The Best Of,” was not how to grill weinies over flaming jet fuel, but rather to spotlight the firefighting school at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The firefighters saved the eating for later, when the TV cameras followed them to the Pot Belly Deli in Oak Harbor.

In fact, the TV crew and cutey-pie host Jill Cordes taped at four locations on Whidbey Island recently for two different shows that will air at undetermined times in the future.

On Sunday, Cordes and crew went to Penn Cove Shellfish and harvested some mussels. Then they stopped by Rosi’s Garden Restaurant in Coupeville, where co-owners Simon Bargh and Heidi Hennessey showed off their cooking skills and served a seafood feast.

“It was a little nerve wracking,” Bargh said. “I’ve never had anyone film me while I cook before. But it ended up being pretty fun.”

According to Cordes, “The Best of” is a traveling magazine show that features five different places in each half-hour episode. Each show has a basic theme. The crew filmed in Coupeville, for example, for a show on the “Best of shellfish spots.”

Bargh said he cooked up many different seafood items for the camera, but Cordes and the TV crew focused on his popular seafood salad, which contains a plethora of tasty creatures from the sea. He also steamed their recently-harvested mussels with garlic, wine, fresh herbs and lemon. Then in the dining area, surrounded by guests, Cordes feasted on the menu items.

Monday, the TV people traveled north to do a spot on the Navy firefighters and the Pot Belly Deli for a show on “The Best of Military Eats.”

“We’re showing military behind the scenes around the country and at a restaurant where the public can go,” said Cordes.

A few of the instructors at the school, as well as two salvage and crash crew members stationed at Outlying Field in Coupeville, put on the demonstration for the TV production crew Monday morning. Once crewmembers ignited the fake jet, which is permanently located on a concrete pad at the school, a crew arrived in a neon yellow crash truck.

Spouting an initial spray of firefighting foam from a nozzle at the front of the truck, firefighters in silver flame-proof suits leaped into action. Using hoses, they doused the huge flames in a matter of minutes.

The Navy firefighters were happy to oblige the curious TV crew and to provide a national audience with information about their job.

“I think it’s outstanding,” said U.S. Navy Senior Chief Dan Harrell, who leads the team at the firefighting school. “Our instructors here get to show their stuff. Everyone knows about the naval air station, but not the firefighting. It gets them some recognition.”

After all that work, it was off to lunch at Oak Harbor’s Pot Belly Deli. Cordes said it was the firefighters’ choice to go to their favorite eatery, which was packed with both hungry civilians and people in uniform.

Cordes sat with the group of firefighters as they all feasted on the deli’s giant sandwiches. She wasn’t shy about woofing one down.

“I really worked up an appetite from fighting fires,” she said. “I downed that thing.”

Afterward, deli owner Keith Bartlett showed Cordes how to make the jaw-unhinging sandwiches. She put together a pastrami, corned beef, salami, Havarti and pepperjack creation.

According to Bartlett, the key to his popularity, especially among the military crowd, is offering big portions of good food at reasonable prices. “We feed them and keep them happy,” he said.

Normally “The Best Of” features food items, such as “The Best of Hot Dogs,” said Cordes.

“This one’s more specific,” Cordes said of the taping in Oak Harbor and at other bases around the country. The show was going for a “patriotic” theme, she said.

The staff of 10 firefighting instructors is responsible for training all firefighters in the Navy’s northwest region, whether they are stationed at bases, with squadrons or on ships. About 2,800 Navy firefighters per year train at the school, said Warrant Officer Mark Vanoort, who heads up the Navy firefighting operations at the base.

After finishing up in Oak Harbor, the crew moved onto Seattle, where Cordes will be sampling the best of Asian food, cakes, french fries, cocktails and drive-ins fare.

“It’s a pretty good job,” she said.

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