How Do You Red Bean, Robert Medina?
Cooking has always been a part of Robert Medina’s life. Like most kids in the Crescent City, he grew up around some great cooks. He wanted to be in the kitchen helping out as the meals were being prepared, carefully watching the steps needed to cook and put a great meal on the table for the family.
After serving in the Navy and attending college, Robert worked a series of jobs that left him unfulfilled. He wanted more. Following his father’s footsteps, he joined the New Orleans fire department. On his first day of work, he entered the kitchen, there was an older guy cooking a pot of gumbo. “He asked me how the gumbo smelled. It reminded me of the smell from my grandmother’s kitchen. All of those aromas wafting around made my mouth water. It rekindled something I had forgotten about, how much I enjoyed cooking.”
Robert was no stranger to eating meals in the firehouse, even before he joined the fire department. His father, uncle, and brother, who were all firefighters, were also cooks. He wanted to get back into the kitchen, and not just help, but to cook the meals to feed those in his engine house. For 24 years, Robert was a New Orleans firefighter. In that time, he honed his skills in the kitchen. He says that, “To this day, I stick with the credo that if you can satisfy a firefighter’s palate, you can satisfy anyone’s.”
Since retiring, Robert needed something new to do. He kept cooking, but this time, instead of for firefighters at the engine house, he cooked for friends, family events, and at tailgate parties. Any excuse to cook, he did. He decided to put his recipes together in a cookbook to share his knowledge of New Orleans-style cooking. He released “If You Can’t Stand The Heat: A New Orleans Firefighters Cookbook” in 2011 by Tate Publishing. In the book, he shows all the step-by-step instructions you need to take all the guess work out of cooking so you have an excellent NOLA-style meal no matter where your house, or firehouse, is.
Besides writing cookbooks and recipes for his website, he also has a book of poetry, “FREEFALL,” available and offers a line of Creole spices called New Orleans Original Firehouse Flashover Creole Seasoning. It’s a spice blend that he has perfected over the years while cooking at the fire department. Firehouse Flashover Creole Seasoning is sold in select stores in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast.
I asked Robert Medina, “How Do You Red Bean?”
1. Where’s your favorite place to order red beans and rice?
I usually don’t order red beans when I’m out. I make them at home and as terrible as it might sound, I like my own. Maybe because I can control what goes into them. I have eaten many plates of beans and rice over the years. I spent 24 years on the fire department in New Orleans so I have had the privilege of sampling numerous versions of the bean. Some great and some not so great. Amazing how such simple ingredients can turn out so differently. If I were pressed to come up with a restaurant, Copeland’s, Acme Oyster House and of course Popeye’s come to mind.
2. Do you put any unique ingredients in your pot of red beans? Do you prefer dried or canned beans?
I only use dry beans and only Camellia. I have tried many others and they just don’t stack up. I want to add flavor to the beans so I take smoked ham hocks and boil them in chicken stock until the meat begins to fall off the bone. I use that meat along with pickle meat and Andouille along with the smoke infused chicken stock instead of water. Then, the usual ingredients along with a little shot of Tabasco.
3. What do you eat with red beans and rice?
Usually warm French bread and butter. Back at the fire house we always served them with fried pork chops. And not little wimpy thin ones. Thick chops. Those guys could eat.
4. Do you only eat red beans and rice on traditional Mondays or any day of the week?
When I was a kid, my mom always served them up on Mondays. Tradition. Today, I just make them when we feel like eating them. Often I will make them and let them sit in the fridge for a day or two. Maybe it’s a trick of the brain but it seems that for some reason beans get better after they have had a chance for all of those flavors to get to know each other.
5. What are you currently working on?
Still doing the occasional book signing and cooking demos. The first book was called “If You Can’t Stand the Heat… A New Orleans Firefighters Cookbook”. About half way done on the second one. It will be called “If You Can’t Stand the Heat… Second Alarm”. We are also in the process of getting our Firehouse Flashover Creole Seasoning into stores. At the end of the month our new product comes out. Also fire related. Firehouse Backdraft Butt & BBQ Rub. Also teaching classes for corporate groups. It keeps me busy.
For more information on Robert Medina, you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter @MedinaLite or his author page. You can find more information on his cookbook, product line of Firehouse Flashover Creole Seasoning, and recipes on his website.
This story originally appeared on Red Beans & Eric and was written by Eric Olsson