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Malverne firefighters, Atria chef bring the heat in cooking contest

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Temperatures soared, grills roared and taste buds adored at Atria Senior Living in Lynbrook on July 18 when resident chef Natalia Acosta went head to head with Malverne firefighting couple Deborah and Guy Bove in the “Heat vs. Sweet: A Battle to the Final Bell” chef showdown.

The rules for the competition required each chef to incorporate peppers — sweet or hot — into their dishes and see what made the best possible combination.

Acosta’s dish was lobster macaroni and cheese, topped with goat cheese and served in a flame-roasted poblano pepper. “I have a friend who’s a foodie, and I was telling him I’m not sure if I want to do what I want to do, and he said, ‘Macaroni and cheese rocks,’” Acosta said. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to put that in a poblano pepper and see how it works out.’ I also added the goat cheese for a kick.”

For the 41-year-old Salisbury, Md., resident, becoming a chef was more serendipity than interest. “I was 21 and married, and I had the choice of staying home or going to school,” she said. “I’m a very independent woman, so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go to school.’” Acosta said she soon realized that she was uncertain about what field to pursue, so she took a walk with her mother, stumbled on a cooking school and decided to give it a shot.

“Cooking was never a passion,” she recounted. “It was never like, ‘Oh, I want to be a chef.’ It was more that I just fell into it.”

The Bove duo took a different route, serving steak tidbits with peppers substituting for bread, accompanied by Spanish-style rice. “The rice was something that my brother and I concocted over the years — I’m talking years ago — but I haven’t made it in a long time,” said Guy. The Boves were trying to find something to complement peppers when they thought of steak tidbits. “It worked out pretty well,” he said. “It was a gamble.”

Firefighting is more than a job for the Boves; it’s a family affair. “I followed in my father’s and brother’s footsteps,” said Deborah, a Valley Stream firefighter whose father is a resident at Atria Lynbrook. “I’m still a member and have been a member of the department for 32 years.”

As a firefighter, Deborah teaches the bailout system, which is what the firefighters use when they escape from a building’s windows with ropes, she explained, and added that it was exciting to teach.

The Boves’ son, Nicholas, recently joined his father at the Malverne Fire Department. “When you look into the history of each member, somewhere and somehow, they’re related to somebody else in the departments,” Guy said. “It’s family and always has been.”

After the two dishes were served to the judges — a panel that included Herald intern reporter Frank Gargano — the votes were tallied, and the Boves claimed victory over Acosta by a slim margin.

But in the end, the competition was all for the residents. “I think it’s a little entertaining for them,” said Angela Barry, the community business director at Atria Lynbrook. “They like to eat, so they like to come and try something different. It was nice this year that we had a resident’s family members as competitors to our own chef, so I think it was nice and interactive.”