Military Culinarians Serve Up Their Best for Annual Army Competition
March 12, 2007
FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, March 12, 2007) -- For many participants in the 2007 Junior Chef of the Year competition the prospect of presenting their best culinary creations to four gray-haired, world-renown master chefs with European accents would be daunting.
"At first, I must say, I was expecting that my posterior would be handed to me," said Spc. Patrick Alveranga, the U.S. Army Reserve representative in the competition. "But they were actually very nurturing to us in a sense that they told us what we did right, what we did wrong and how to improve. To me, that is very good because they did not try to come down too hard."
Alveranga is one of the more than 150 military cooks competing during the 32nd Annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition, March 4-16. Prior to the junior competition, the more seasoned chefs took to the stoves to battle for the coveted title of "U.S. Army Chef of the Year." Other categories include the Field Cooking Competition, Nutritional Hot Food Challenge, Student Skills and Ice Carving.
The entries of these Soldiers, Marines and Coast Guard members are judged by American Culinary Federation certified chefs. "We've all been competitors, and competitors don't want to hear that their work is no good or whatever," said Klaus Friedenreich, a German-educated ACF chef with more than 30 years experience. "We try to be encouraging, not discouraging."
Alveranga was one of 14 contestants who faced an equivalent of a culinary firing squad in the junior category. That event showcases the talent and skills of the military's best junior food service specialists.
The junior event features participants in the grade of E-4 and below, who prepare and cook a three-course meal, typically an entrAe, dessert and soup or salad in four hour's time. It is graded in two phases - kitchen techniques and tasting - with a grading weight of 40 percent and 60 percent, respectively.
"I was thinking that four hours is a lot of time to prepare a meal," said Fort Sill's Spc. Rickey Jones, one of several who hurried and scurried around the kitchen in the last hour to make the deadline. In the end, he said, the four-time limit provided a false sense of security. "Really, every hour, every minute and every second counts." Some of the junior chefs had the advantage of learning the importance of time management while assisting their senior counterparts during the Senior Chef of the Year Competition.
With four hours to cook four courses, and 30 minutes to serve each course, the senior chefs were virtually in a pressure cooker for time. Adding to the pressure, these seasoned professionals were given a mystery basket to create their culinary masterpieces.
"The mystery basket requires them to look at the items they've got and decide what they can create in four hours, knowing their skill level, their equipment and capabilities," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Sparks, chief of the culinary craft skills training branch of the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence. "The smart thing to do is design a menu they can do reasonably well within that time limit. You don't want to do more than you can practically do in four hours, and that's where some have a problem."
Fort Bragg's Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Nixon said that time management is the key to winning this event. It requires not only balancing the preparation and cooking time for each course, but coordinating that time so each meal can be served at the proper interval. Nixon's menu started with seafood chowder, followed by a chicken salad with raspberry vinaigrette. The entrAe plate included a savory roasted lamb, whipped potatoes and vegetable medley. Dessert was an enticing trilogy of flavors - Dutch apple pie, lemon custard and black forest cake. The winners of the junior and senior chef of the year events will be announced March 16 as the largest culinary competition in the United States concludes with an awards ceremony.
(T. Anthony Bell and Mike Strasser are senior writers for the Fort Lee Traveller.)