Yesterday, we had the pleasure of attending the 11th Annual Iron Skillet Cook-Off. The Cook-Off is sponsored by World Cares Center, which is dedicated to educating volunteers how to react and respond when disaster strikes.
The event brought together five of New York’s bravest Firefighters along with five of NY’s top restaurant chefs. Crimson, where the event took place, was brimming with energy, laughter, and exhilarating fumes of delectable treats. People were eating, drinking, bidding on bourbon tastings. It was a nice departure from the uptight charity events we’re used to attending.
For the most part, the competition seemed like it was pretty neck and neck. The firefighters provided the recipes and the chefs were tasked with embellishing and making it their own. But something was different about Khalid Baylor’s dish.
Khalid Baylor is a firefighter from Ladder 14 up in Harlem, but his roots grow a little south of the Mason Dixon line. While Khalid was born in the Bronx, his mother, Joanne Baylor is from Columbus, Mississippi. Khalid’s mom and grandmother worked at a bakery and their hard work was not lost on Khalid.
He began baking at a very young age, but immediately knew he wanted to do something unique. He was inspired by George Washington Carver and all of the crazy things he was able to do with a little peanut, so he picked an ingredient, Sweet Potatoes, and ran with it.
Baylor shipped off to college at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island and perfected his Sweet Potato Cheesecake (which is making our mouth water just thinking about). He made his way to Harlem’s beloved bakery, Make My Cake where he was able to hone his skills and serve up some of New York’s favorite desserts, and even showcased his abilities at Window’s of the World in the North Tower of the World Trade Centers.
But in 1999 he was struck by an “act of God” as he calls it, when a young firefighter passed him during the African American parade in Harlem and handed him an application for the FDNY. “I felt like it was a calling, and I couldn’t deny this amazing opportunity.”
Baylor has been on the job since 2003, leading his community and staying active in recruiting youths to join the department. “It’s important to be a leader and share my experiences with young Black and Hispanic kids who could benefit from an organization like the FDNY, which is really more of a family than a job.”
Interestingly enough, the road for Khalid Baylor to join the Iron Skillet Cook-Off was not as easy as you might think. His skills were in pastry and desserts, and quite frankly the WCC volunteers were having a hard time finding a chef who was comfortable competing in the dessert category.
He knew he had to get accepted this year, so he brought back some ingenuity from his formative years and took his star ingredient, sweet potatoes, to a whole new level. Baylor looked back at his roots and decided to bring some Mississippi flare to the Big Apple to create a spin on Chicken & Waffles.
When we said there was something different about Khalid’s dish we meant it. See the other firefighters stuck with what they knew worked, Braised Brisket, Smothered Pork Chops, leaving the embellishments like Green Bean French Fries to their competitor chefs. So Baylor would’ve probably been okay with plain Chicken & Waffles. But that’s not how Khalid rolls. He took the audience and judges by storm by creating a Lemongrass Fried Chicken with Sweet Potato Waffles, and a Peach Schnapps Compote. Yes, it tastes as amazing as it sounds.
The dish was intoxicating to say the least. It was easily the favorite of the night and had the entire crowd buzzing. Baylor did not let this get to his head, acting like a true Firefighter; he stayed calm under pressure and kept shoveling out plates, sharing smiles and anecdotes with diners. He was the first one there and the last to close out his station.
Khalid Baylor is the reason events like the Iron Skillet Cook-Off take place. He’s out there inspiring volunteers to be prepared for anything and also keeping families smiling and satisfied with his culinary creations.
We want to thank World Cares Center for letting us come along for the ride, and congratulate all of the competitors. It was an honor to see everyone’s enthusiasm and passion shining through for this wonderful cause.
All Photos Credit Zoe Schaeffer for I’m In The Kitchen