Soldiers, students face off at cook off
Spc. Thao Vangsoua prepares a sole fish Jan. 22 at the 1st Infantry Division culinary competition. Both teams in the contest had to prepare one dish using sole for the appetizer.

FORT RILEY, Kan. - The feeling in the air was tense as five students from Johnson County Community College stood side-by-side with the Big Red One's hand-picked team, both sides listening in, as the line in the proverbial sand was drawn.

But the two teams wouldn't be facing each other with pistols or blades, but with utensils and seasonings. The first 1st Infantry Division culinary competition was about to begin.

The contest served two purposes for both the college and the Soldiers of the Big Red One. For the students, it gave them practice to help them prepare for a region-wide contest in Chicago, said John Head, JCCC culinary instructor.

"It's not a competition against the Fort Riley team," Head said. "It's a competition against the professional standards of the American Culinary Federation."

For the Soldiers, the contest was only the first part of the 1st Inf. Div. culinary competition, which is separated into various events. The contest is scheduled to take place in various months during 2009, said Chief Warrant Officer Travis Smith, the division's command food advisor.
"The purpose of these competitions is to showcase what the cooks do on a daily basis," said Smith. "The public can see what they do, as well as provide an environment where the cook is challenged to provide a higher standard."

Three respected chefs, including Steven Giunta, one of 50 certified master chefs in the world, evaluated teams in two areas: standard skills and the food itself.

As with any gourmet meal, the first step was preparation. Teams had to prove they were ready to step up to the grill with the proper utensils and ingredients.

After the judges evaluated their preparation performance, the true test began; creating a four-course meal meeting the standards of the American Culinary Federation. The teams went head-to-head in their preparation of a dish featuring sole fish. The other dishes were up to them. Each team made a salad, an entrAfAe and a dessert to finish the three remaining courses.

Since both teams had relatively little experience, the cook-off was a good starting point and exercise in teamwork. "Even when stuff slips away, or when something messes up, the team is always there to back you up and make you feel better," said first-year JCCC culinary team member Megan Fatseas.

Pvt. Bradley Barta, a member of the 701st Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., joined the team after redeploying from Iraq. He said he enjoyed the high-pressure environment of his first competition.

"I'm having a blast," Barta said.

After both teams presented their dishes and the judges made their observations, there was a small break to clean before the three judges congratulated both teams for their work. The judges based their critique on practical information instead of assigning scores.

"We're not going to get into points," said Giunta, "because if you really want to hear numbers from us, you're going to miss the key points in the food and what we saw."

At the end of the contest, both teams were congratulated for their professionalism, dedication and persistence in their craft. Since the competition was a scrimmage, there were no winners or losers.

The contest served as practice for the 1st Inf. Div. team, which will go to Fort Lee, Va., in March to take part in an Army-wide culinary competition.

Page last updated Fri January 30th, 2009 at 18:14