In a new Food Network show that pits professional chefs against home cooks – without revealing who’s who until the end – Broward County, FL Local 4321 member Cindy Taffel brought home the winning prize of $15,000.
After winning the World Food Championship in the seafood category in November 2015, the Food Network propositioned Taffel to compete in an episode of the first season of “Cooks vs Cons” – where two professionals compete against two home cooks (the “cons”).
“I said, ‘Uh, yeah!’ let’s do this!” says Taffel.
A two-time ovarian cancer survivor, Taffel has a “new outlook on life and doing what you love.” She was first diagnosed in 2004 when she was 38 and was able to remain an active fire fighter, with the help of her local and department, after going through chemo.
After five years, her cancer returned, which pulled her out of the field and really took a toll on her physically. Luckily, Taffel was able to become a fire investigator with Local 4321 and continues to work in the profession she loves.
Of the participants in a clinical trial to treat her cancer, Taffel is the remaining survivor and has passed another five-year mark cancer-free. “I’m like a New York City cockroach, I just won’t die!” she says.
Taffel’s persistence, determination and self-proclaimed “zany” personality (“I tell it like it is, no use wasting time,” she says) lent itself perfectly to the competitive atmosphere of “Cooks vs Cons.”
“It was a lot like fire fighting,” says Taffel. “When I got to the studio, you could say I did an immediate 360 scene survey. I was eyeing every piece of equipment, every ingredient. While other people were interested in meeting the celebrity hosts, I knew I needed to use that precious time to prepare.”
Ironically, when asked about her cooking for the firehouse, Taffel admits that she was quickly removed from cooking duties as a probationary fire fighter when she burned the grill to the ground. “It was bad! Black smoke billowing up, traffic stopping to see what was happening. I peeked into the kitchen and said, ‘Um, guys? A little help?’” Taffel never lived this incident down and is still teased, especially after her national success as a home-taught cook.
Taffel embraced her time on the show and dazzled the judges with her signature dish, a macadamia-nut crusted, miso-glazed sea bass with a pineapple burblanc. Taffel was also tasked with adding cookies to a dish (hence the title of her episode “Cookie Crumble”), in which she cooked a lamb crusted with thin mint Girl Scout cookies that was a big success.
In preparing for the show, Taffel would invite her neighbors over to experiment with different foods. “There was a rule though – you gotta tell me the brutal truth. I don’t wanna hear, ‘Oh, Cindy, it’s delicious.’ Is it too salty? Too sweet? If you’re not honest, you’re not invited back.”
Because of the secretive nature of the show, Taffel had to change all of her social media to hide her fire fighting background. “That was hard to do. I didn’t realize how much of my life revolved around my career as fire fighter.”
Taffel is extremely excited about the prospect of continuing both her fire investigating career and her competitive cooking. “I am definitely not going anywhere, I love my career. I am lucky that I am able to do both at this point,” she says. “I wasn’t born to stay in one lane, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.”