Miramar Beach's Robert Medina got the biggest break of his second career last month when he filmed a segment on the Rachael Ray Show, which will air Dec. 30.
Cooking since he was five, the New Orleans native grew up in the kitchen.
"My grandma used to stand me on the chair so I could reach the counter," he said. "Born and raised in New Orleans, we made a lot of Creole and Cajun dishes — red beans and rice, gumbo."
As a New Orleans firefighter, Medina put his skills to use at the fire station feeding the crew. He also picked up a few recipes too.
"Cooking at the fire station taught me that there's more than one way to make anything," he said. "I learned a lot from the old guys — and now I'm the old guy. Everybody has their own family recipes and over time I took the best from the best and re-invented it as my own."
In retirement, Medina recorded 187 recipes in a 300-plus page cookbook fittingly titled "If You Can’t Stand the Heat… A New Orleans Firefighters Cookbook." He's currently working on a second cookbook featuring 100 new recipes.
Following his first cookbook, Medina began selling his own concoction of Creole spices, New Orleans Original Firehouse Flashover Creole Seasoning.
"Readers of the cookbook kept emailing saying they were tired of mixing it themselves," he said.
To promote the book, Medina has toured bookstores and local news networks throughout the Gulf Coast region. It was only a matter of time before he reached a larger audience. With the encouragement of his wife, Lori, Medina entered the Burger of the Month contest, a segment on the Rachael Ray show put together with co-host Bobby Flay.
"She suggested I enter with my blackened cheeseburger," Medina said. "We sent it in at the last minute."
Within a week of his entry, Medina found out he was in the top three out of hundreds of entries and was quickly flown out to New York City to film.
"We were in New Orleans when they called to say 'We're going to be at your house tomorrow,' " he recalled. "The film crew was over for about five hours for a 90-second clip. Right before Thanksgiving they flew us to New York. It was all very fast."
Of his time on the Rachael Ray set, Medina said he had to fight the stage fright.
"It was unusual," he said. "I've filmed segments for early morning TV shows in the region, but that's just in front of a handful of reporters. On the 'Rachael Ray Show,' you're in front of 100 or so audience members."
Medina said the four minutes he had to discuss his burger creation seemed like 10 seconds.
"They asked a lot of questions," Medina said. "Bobby Flay even asked about my seasoning, so I got the chance to mention my cookbook."
As for the Burger of the Month winner, Medina said you'll just have to wait for the episode to air.
"We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement; and once I sign something that's it," Medina said. "I didn't even tell my mother."
WANT TO WATCH? Tune in to the Rachael Ray Show on Monday, Dec. 30. To learn more about Medina, or to purchase his cookbook, visit www.fireitupfoodsllc.com. "If You Can't Stand The Heat... " is also available on Amazon.com and at major book retailers.