They say if you can’t stand the fire, get out of the kitchen. But as an FDNY lieutenant and executive chef, that’s not a problem for John Sierp.
Earlier this month, Sierp was in the kitchen of the new Kips Bay restaurant Home Base, sporting a fire department T-shirt and working out recipes with sous chef Jennifer Goodman for their menu of comfort-food twists.
The two had already put the seal of approval on wings with Thai peanut sauce and fried Oreos with ice cream at the American bistro, now in its soft opening.
They were perfecting a General Tso’s cauliflower — beer-battered morsels of the veggie with a sweet and spicy sauce. They were still experimenting with Cuban egg rolls, which is like a “Cuban sandwich in an eggroll,” Sierp says, and a gluten-free, vegetarian zucchini pasta with roasted garlic and broiled cherry tomatoes.
Another menu offering, the French onion soup sandwich, features thick, toasted bread slices with sweet caramelized onions and both Gruyere and Swiss cheeses and a small ramekin with onion soup for dipping.
The primarily self-trained chef has long found himself taking charge in the kitchen.
Sierp, 46, got his start cooking as a college student, making meals for his frat brothers at the University of Delaware. The Staten Island native would call his Italian mother back home in Great Kills and ask for recipes and advice on making meatballs and sauce.
“I would tweak them from there,” he says.
When Sierp joined the FDNY in 2003, assigned to Ladder 169 in Brighton Beach, he continued to cook for his crew.
“The guys in the firehouse are much more difficult to cook for than the frat guys,” says Sierp, who cooked “everything from fish to steak to pork chops to pasta dishes, soups, to different types of crazy sandwiches. You name it, I cooked it.”
Sierp’s baptism by fire in the restaurant business began 10 years ago at M1-5 in TriBeCa. With no experience other than his frat house and fire station cooking, plus his mom’s advice, he answered a call from one of his old frat brothers, Serge Zborovsky (a partner in Home Base), who asked him to be the chef at his new restaurant.
“I had no experience with being a restaurant chef,” Sierp says. “He just knew I was a good cook and I loved food and was passionate, and I learned on the fly how to be a restaurant cook.”
“I asked questions and read recipe books and took a class on catering, and that class was the only formal training I ever had,” Sierp continues.
Since then, Sierp has consulted for three Staten Island restaurants, The Hop Shoppe, The Pizza Parlor and Richmond Republic.
He’s also made the TV rounds, perfecting some of his techniques as a two-time contestant on “Chopped,” where he came in second place both times. He was a judge on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” and a guest on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Martha Stewart Show,” where he cooked a pasta dish with chicken and a sherry cream sauce that he perfected at Ladder 169.
“We got along really well,” Sierp recalls of Stewart. “We joked, I even asked her out on a date.”
Sierp is now a lieutenant at Ladder 8, aka the “Ghostbusters” firehouse, in TriBeCa. As a lieutenant he no longer cooks for his crew. But of course you can find him in the kitchen at Home Base (which was previously the restaurant Raise New York, where Sierp was also the executive chef).
"We came up with the name because we wanted to be like a second home," Sierp says. "We wanted to be a home base for people in the area."
Home Base is located at 416 Third Ave. and is open Monday-Friday starting at 5 p.m. and at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more info, visit homebasebistro.com.