FULTONDALE, Ala. (WIAT) — Chief Justin McKenzie leads the newly-formed, full time fire department in Fultondale, and he’s using flames in a unique way.
A master of the grill, McKenzie was recently a contestant on Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games – a show hosted by Guy Fieri in which different cooks compete for prize money.
“When I first got [the invitation], ‘I was like no way,’” Chief McKenzie said.
After an EF-3 tornado hit Fultondale in January, he was invited to be a contestant on the show along with fellow firefighters for a special episode.
“All this stuff has happened in the city… We had 260-something residential buildings down, 61 businesses affected – if not destroyed. There’s a lot that I was worried about just for our city and residents,” McKenzie said of the devastating tornado.
Fultondale’s mayor and the city council members encouraged the fire chief to accept the show’s invitation.
“They supported me completely,” he said. “They made sure the calls and paperwork was covered while I was gone. I was able to take a couple days off and do it, when at the time, you couldn’t take time off for anything.”
McKenzie traveled to an undisclosed location in California for the taping of the episode, arriving with cooking skills he learned in the firehouse.
“Any fire station, if they figure out you can cook and you’re the rookie, you’re going to cook. That’s kind of how my career went.”
Before the pandemic, McKenzie, also known around the Fultondale Fire Station as ‘Chief Grill Daddy,’ would cook at various charity cooking events and competitions. But those events came to a screeching halt in March 2020.
“I went from doing competitions on a regular basis to none at all to being filmed on TV,” he said. “So that was a big change up for me.”
Chief McKenzie still went onto the show feeling confident. Now, unfortunately – per an agreement with Discovery Inc. – McKenzie is not able to tell us much about his experience on the show. However, he did share about his general experience and meeting Guy Fieri.
“My expectations were exceeded,” he said. “I thought very highly of him and the things that he does for cooking – I absolutely love cooking. For what he does on all the shows that they have that shows the local restaurants across the country.”
He said he’s just grateful to have had the experience and appreciates all the support his city showed for his dream.
“It was an absolutely awesome opportunity to just be a part of something like this. I was excited to go; I’m excited for the show to air. Just doing a backyard competition cook-off – that’s enough for me. For everything we just went through, to be able to get away and take a fresh breath of air somewhere else, that was a huge thing for me.”
You can catch Fultondale’s Fire Chief Justin McKenzie on Food Network on August 25 at 8 p.m. CST.